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Family and Criminal Law Blog

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases

A burden of proof is a legal standard. It is the legal standard that requires parties to a case to demonstrate that a claim is either valid or invalid, a criminal charge justified or not justified, based on the facts and supporting evidence presented. In order to be successful in proving or disproving a legal claim, a party must meet its burden of proof.

The burden of proof in criminal cases is rather notorious. The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is prominently featured in legal tv and movie dramas as well as legal thriller books. What the burden of proof means in a criminal case and its details, however, are not so widely noted. Here, we will go into more detail about the burden of proof in criminal cases.

The Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases

In a criminal case, the prosecution carries the burden of proof. The burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It is the highest burden of proof in the U.S. legal system and this is because there is so much at stake in a criminal case. The outcome of a criminal case can impact personal freedoms, civil liberties, and so much more for a defendant. The defendant is given the benefit of being innocent until proven guilty, and the prosecution carries a heavy burden to successfully seek a conviction.

The fact that the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt means that the prosecution must prove the existence of every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. While this is an understandably high burden, it is not meant to be an unreasonable one. The prosecution need not prove the illegitimacy of every possible doubt that a person may have about a case. Instead, the prosecution must prove its case so that reasonable doubts are dispelled.

While the prosecution carries the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden can, in some cases, shift to the defense. Although not as high of a standard is likely to be applied, the defense team will have the burden of proof should something like an affirmative defense be asserted. An affirmative defense is really a defense that acknowledges a defendant may have acted in a way that may, under certain circumstances, been considered criminal, but there were extenuating circumstances that made the conduct legitimate and excused from criminal liability. For instance, self-defense is a commonly asserted affirmative defense when a defendant is charged with a violent crime.

With an affirmative defense raised, the defense will carry the burden of substantiating the affirmative defense. The burden of proof for an affirmative defense will vary based on jurisdiction. Often, it is by a preponderance of the evidence standard. This burden of proof is, of course, lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt burden carried by the prosecution.

Criminal Defense Attorneys

Are you facing criminal charges? Do not delay in connecting with the trusted criminal defense attorneys at Navarrete & Schwartz. Waiting can result in critical loss of legal rights as well as jeopardizing the strength of your case. We are proud to serve the residents of Midland, Texas. Contact us today.


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