To establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt a person must, after considering all the evidence and facts of a case, have in their mind an abiding conviction, to a moral certainty, that the charge is true. Reasonable doubt is the standard of proof for many crimes, like OUIs, codified under M.G.L. c. 90, §24.
This post will answer the following questions on the legal concept of reasonable doubt:
- What is proof beyond a reasonable doubt?
- What is “a moral certainty”?
- Who has the burden of proof?
- What happens if a juror still has reasonable doubt after all the evidence has been evaluated?
What is proof beyond a reasonable doubt?
A charge is proved beyond a reasonable doubt if, after you have compared and considered all of the evidence, you have in your minds an abiding conviction, to a moral certainty, that the charge is true.
In every criminal case, the standard of proof is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” That standard of proof is different than in other types of legal situations, such as car accidents or child custody. In those, the burden of proof is preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not, that the allegations are true.
What is “a moral certainty”?
When we refer to moral certainty, we mean the highest degree of certainty possible in matters relating to human affairs -- based solely on the evidence that has been put before you in this case.
Who has the burden of proof?
The burden is on the Commonwealth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charge(s) made against him (her).
In some non-criminal situations the burden of proof is “clear and convincing evidence.” However, only in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt,”—the highest level of proof—required. In every criminal case, it is the burden, the responsibility, and the duty of the Commonwealth (i.e. the prosecutor), to prove each element of the criminal defense to the judge or the jury.
The burden of proof never shifts from the prosecutor to the defendant. It always is and remains the district attorney’s job to prove the entire case beyond reasonable doubt. And therefore, in every criminal jury trial, the judge reads to the jury specifically what is reasonable doubt and the jury interprets the facts and applies it to the standard of law, which is “guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
What happens if a juror still has reasonable doubt after all the evidence has been evaluated?
If you evaluate all the evidence and you still have a reasonable doubt remaining, the defendant is entitled to the benefit of that doubt and must be acquitted.
It is not enough for the Commonwealth to establish a probability, even a strong probability, that the defendant is more likely to be guilty than not guilty.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A CRIME, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.
Source: Instruction 2.180