Reasonable Doubt: What is Reasonable?

Burden of Proof in a criminal case is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Unfortunately that is about as far as the law goes in explaining the complicated concept.
 La. Code of Criminal Procedure Article 804 states:
     (A) In all cases the court shall charge the jury that:
       (1) A person accused of a crime is presumed by law to be innocent until each element of the crime, necessary to constitute his guilt, is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
       (2) It is the duty of the jury, in considering the evidence and in applying to that evidence the law as given by the court, to give the defendant the benefit of every reasonable doubt arising out of the evidence or  out of the lack of evidence in the case; and
       (3) It is the duty of the jury if not convinced of the guilt of a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, to find him not guilty.
Sounds easy enough, right?  Surely we all understand the the difference between innocent and guilty. It's as easy as recognizing the difference between black and white.
None of us seem to have a problem differentiating innocent from guilty. It is the concept of not guilty that stumps us. Very few lawyer or judges understand it, yet we attempt to explain it to a jury. What does it mean? What does it imply? How easily is is misunderstood, misconstrued or distorted?
                                                                    
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The highest burden of proof in any court proceeding is proof "beyond a reasonable doubt." When a person stands trial, the jury must begin with the assumption that the accusations against defendant are false. A juror can only find in favor for the government at the end of the trial if the prosecution has erased all reasonable doubts about the defendant's innocence from the juror's mind. 

Here is the chart that the defense attorney used as demonstrative evidence during closing arguments  in the Casey Anthony trial to explain the concept of reasonable doubt to the jury.


 and here is another chart that is routinely used by defense attorneys in criminal case to explain the concept of reasonable doubt to a jury.
Would you recognize it if you saw it? What is a reasonable doubt? We know it does not mean all doubt, but how much doubt can a jury have and still in good faith vote to convict?

Today's letter in the A to Z challenge is R.  Reasonable Doubt.  Click on the link to visit all of the 2012 A to Z challenge participants.



4 comments:

  1. So much of a decision like that must rest on a jurors opinion, no matter how much they are told the correct way to think about it. If someone has made up their mind very often nothing can change it. A bit scary, really, to rely on the average person to make certain decisions on another person's future.

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  2. Those charts are pretty graphic explanation of the concept. I had never seen that before. I am really enjoying all these posts. Reasonable doubt seems like a very individual perception so I can see why attorneys need to illustrate it. 

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  3. Thank you Chuck. Reasonable doubt is probably the most difficult concept there is to explain to a jury and because there is not exact mathematical number such as 99% or 99.9% it is open to much interpretation by the jury. Every jury is different and that is why we have such a wide discrepancy in actual verdicts. 

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  4.  It is quite scary. It basically comes down to how an individual, subjectively views the legal concept of reasonable doubt. That is why you could turn a case over to two different juries, both who heard the exact same evidence and viewed the exact same trial and the outcome could be completely different from each jury.

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