Clients often ask us what the term “reasonable doubt” actually means to an individual faced with criminal charges. In the field of criminal law the term is used frequently but many find it difficult to define. The black letter definition of reasonable doubt defines it as doubt that prevents one from being firmly convinced of defendant’s guilt, or the belief that there is a real possibility that a defendant is not guilty. During a criminal trial a judge will instruct the jury that reasonable doubt does not mean the elimination of any possible doubt or scientific certainty.
The law understands that anything related to human conduct is open to some possible doubt. Reasonable doubt exists where, after the comparison and consideration of all the evidence, the “fact finder” (judge or jury) cannot state with clear conviction that the charge against the individual is true.
Most of our readers understand that the burden is always on the prosecution to prove an individual guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the legal standard used to determine whether an individual is in fact guilty. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the law requires that a judge or jury begin their consideration and evaluation of the individual’s guilt with the presumption that he/she is innocent. The presumption of innocence is by far the most important concept in criminal law. Great care is taken before the start of a jury trial to ensure that all jurors understand and respect this legal principle; this process is known as voir dire. It is the examination of a prospective juror to determine if the individual is qualified to serve on a jury. It is extremely important that your attorney thoroughly examine each prospective juror to weed out any biases, prejudices, or any other issue which could affect their impartiality.
The burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is always on the prosecution but it is important that your defense organizes itself through the construction of a proper theme and theory. The defense’s theme and theory of the case considers all of the direct and circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution. The theme and theory directs jurors to pieces of evidence, unanswered questions, and issues which will persuade them to find that the prosecution has not met its burden of establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A successful defense creates doubt through a systematic methodology which links evidence to legal principles favorable to the defendant.
Creating reasonable doubt requires a firm understanding of the law, the facts, and a strategic plan. While the burden is on the prosecution to prove a person guilty that concept is sometimes forgotten or blurred during the course of a trial as juror’s emotions enter their minds and judgment. It is the duty of your defense counsel to continuously assert the prosecution’s inability to meet its burden through the presentation of a strong theme and theory. The defense theme and theory presents your version of the facts and shows the weakness of the prosecution’s case. Reasonable doubt is the key to your case and your success during a criminal prosecution.