What do movies mean when they say “beyond a reasonable doubt”? Christina Williams discusses how the state has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
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Hey, everybody, this is Christina Williams with Just Criminal Law. And today we’re going to talk about a legal term that maybe you hear in the movies and you don’t really know what it means. And it’s very important in a criminal case, in a jury trial, and that is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And along for the discussion is David Mann.
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Hi there. Christina. Yeah, so beyond I think most of us learned legal terms from TV shows, so beyond a reasonable doubt is one that we hear all the time. And I guess it’s enough familiar words in a row that we go, I think I know what that is, but I think a lot of people don’t know what that is.
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So, first of all, beyond a reasonable doubt is not the measure in all trials. Right. Can you explain what that is?
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Sure. So in a jury trial, you’re either going to have a civil case, which is like a person, a citizen, a person versus a person, say a divorce proceedings. And in a criminal case, that is where you have the state of Wyoming prosecuting someone for violating one of Wyoming’s laws. That’s a criminal case. And so those two type of cases have a completely different burden of proof.
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All right. Okay. So so the one we’re looking at here is beyond a reasonable doubt. And the other one is called what? The other burden.
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The the other burden in a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence. And the way I explain this, when word when I’m doing a jury trial is I just use a kind of a visual and I talk to the jury about, you know, in a civil case, if my hands are scales, though, one side only has to tip the scales slightly and that side wins.
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But in a criminal trial, what happens is the state the state is the one that has the burden of proof, not the defendant. And they have the burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. So it’s the highest standard in the land. It and it requires the most and the best evidence.
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Okay. So what’s an example of something that would be in question? And then how does it become beyond a reasonable doubt? Can you kind of illustrate that?
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Sure. So just a simple illustration that I think everyone can relate to would be a DUI trial. So with a DUI case, the state is going to have to prove that the person was over the legal limit or was unable to safely operate a motor vehicle and so in the it case where they don’t have the blood test, so they’re not able to use the legal limit of .08 or greater, and they have to prove that the person was unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.
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If that person is doing his field sobriety test reasonably well and he’s not confused, there isn’t any slurred speech, anything like that, then there’s doubt. I mean, what other than, you know, he admitted to drinking there isn’t that that evidence that’s required enough of the evidence required in that type of a case to find that person guilty?
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Okay. So there can be evidence, there can be even some evidence that that really is kind of rock solid. And but I think what you’re saying is that when a jury has any doubt at all, then they haven’t produced enough evidence. Is that what you’re what you mean? I mean, a reasonable doubt. It sounds like really subjective.
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Right. So, I mean, they don’t have to have say you have someone charged with burglary, they don’t have to have camera footage of the person breaking into the building and stealing stuff to be able to find the person guilty that the state can put on, you know, all sorts of other evidence other than just, you know, somebody videotaping it.
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And and the jury can be convinced through witnesses, you know, through, hey, maybe that person has the property and his apartment or whatever the case may be. The state can prove their case other ways to the point where the jury believes beyond a reasonable doubt that the person’s guilty.
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Okay. All right. So when somebody has no doubt, they really know it. They just go, okay, but you are there to fight for the defense that the defendant who’s being accused of these things and it sounds like you really put up a good fight and make sure that you don’t. There is no giving in. And unless we have pushed it all the way to, there is no beyond all reasonable doubt.
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So someone needs that kind of representation. What do they do?
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