Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases, Why You Should Know It, Care About It, and Cherish It
What Does Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Mean? Why does it matter to me?
Prove it!From little kids to politicians (which often are one in the same), we often hear this phrase. In the realm of criminal law, the burden of proof is what protects our family, friends, and loved ones from being convicted and jailed for crimes the State simply cannot prove they committed.
In both State and Federal court, the prosecutor must present enough evidence to convince a jury or judge of the defendant*s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt has been defined countless times in textbooks, cases, and pop-culture, but in South Carolina the most-used legal definition is this: Reasonable doubt is doubt that causes a reasonable person to hesitate before acting.
Although stiff, rigid, and less than approachable, it is a standard designed to protect each and every person from conviction without due process. It is a standard that ensures the State is held to the highest level of proof in building their case. It is a standard we should know, care about, and cherish.
A talented attorney once described this burden as follows:By bringing these charges, the State took on a burden. We call this their burden of proof. They took on the burden of convincing you beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Smith committed this crime.
Think about the State*s burden as a brick wall standing in the middle of their road to a conviction. Throughout this trial, it*s the State*s duty, their responsibility, to remove each and every brick of reasonable doubt from this wall and from your mind.
That means, if, at the end of this trial even one brick remains in that wall, if one reasonable doubt remains in your mind, the State did not do their job. It means that wall stands. It means the State did not meet their burden of proof and the law demands you return a verdict of not guilty.