What is a ‘reasonable doubt’
Reasonable doubt is a standard of proof that must be exceeded for a conviction in a criminal case. “Beyond reasonable doubt” means that the evidence and arguments presented by the Prosecutor in a criminal case establishes the defendant’s guilt to such a degree that a reasonable person could have no reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused. If the judge or jury has a reasonable doubt of the guilt of the defendant, the defendant can not be convicted.
Reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof used in court, and is solely used in criminal cases because a criminal conviction can deprive a defendant of liberty or even life.
Breaking the ‘reasonable doubt’
Compared to reasonable doubt, civil cases require a much lower standard of proof. “Preponderance of evidence” means that one side has more evidence in its favor than the other; one side can prevail at least 51% probability that the evidence presented is true. “Clear and convincing evidence” is evidence that determines a high probability that the facts presented by one party, however, is more compelling evidence.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the reasonable doubt standard of proof is based on the “fundamental value determination of our society that it is far worse to convict an innocent than to let a guilty man free.” Since the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, in many cases, the defense has successfully established alternative theories that sound plausible enough to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of jurors about the guilt of the defendant. As a result, the case, which can be a slam dunk for the prosecution not infrequently leads to justification.
An example of the concept of reasonable doubt
In 1995, O. J. Simpson is a good example of the concept of reasonable doubt in practice. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. There is a significant amount of evidence against Simpson, including his DNA at the crime scene, blood in his car and witnesses. To confront this mountain of evidence, Simpson has assembled a legal “dream team” who came up with the idea to create doubt in the minds of jurors about his guilt.
One of the highlights of the trial happened in the courtroom when Simpson tried on the bloody leather glove that was found at the crime scene, and showed his strength could not fit into it. In his Closing arguments, lead lawyer johnny Cochran famously said that “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” He also listed 15 points of reasonable doubt in the case. After less than four days of deliberations, a jury found Simpson not guilty on both counts of murder. However, a year later, the families of both victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson. The lower “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof, the jury found Simpson responsible for the deaths and awarded the families $ 8.5 million in damages.