In the U.S., anyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof lies on the prosecution from the beginning. In criminal cases, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. The key to this burden is reasonable. This does not mean any conceivable or merely possible doubt. This is a doubt that a reasonable person would have.
In the words of Georgia Jury instructions, “the State is not required to prove the guilt of the accused beyond all doubt or to a mathematical certainty. A reasonable doubt means just what it says. A reasonable doubt is a doubt of a fair-minded, impartial juror honestly seeking the truth. A reasonable doubt is a doubt based upon common sense and reason. It does not mean a vague or arbitrary doubt, but is a doubt for which a reason can be given, arising from a consideration of the evidence, a lack of evidence, or a conflict in the evidence.”
Additionally, “Facts and circumstances that merely place upon the defendant a grave suspicion of the crime charged or that merely raise a speculation or conjecture of the defendant’s guilt are not sufficient to authorize a conviction of the defendant.” This is what is called “grave suspicion” and it is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
These elements were in full focus in the Zimmerman case, and will be seen again when Andrea Sneiderman goes to trial. Indications that some of the more serious charges against her may be dropped indicate that the prosecution is not sure it can meet this burden. Indeed, it is a high burden to reach and it is designed to keep innocent people out of prison. This goal can only be met at the expense of letting some guilty people go free. While this may unsettle our vision of justice, the alternative is much worse.
Podcast – Burden of Proof – The Adam Goldfein Show – Hour 1
Podcast – Burden of Proof – The Adam Goldfein Show – Hour 2
WSB Radio, Most Serious Charges Against Sneiderman May Be Dropped: http://www.wsbradio.com/news/news/most-serious-charges-against-sneiderman-may-be-dro/nYzdQ/
Web Spawner, Types of Evidentiary Burdens: http://www.webspawner.com/users/collielaw/typesofevidenti.html
AVVO, Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/burden-of-proof-in-a-criminal-case
Laws, Georgia Statutes and Codes: http://statutes.laws.com/georgia/title-12/chapter-9/article-1/12-9-24
Cornell University Law School, Affirmative Defense: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/affirmative_defense
Slate, What If George Zimmerman Had A Public Defender? http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/07/15/zimmerman_what_if_that_matters_what_if_he_d_been_poor.html
C M Law Library, Prosecutor has High Burden of Proof in George Zimmerman Trial: http://cmlawlibraryblog.classcaster.net/2013/07/03/prosecutor-has-high-burden-of-proof-in-george-zimmerman-trial/
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Evidence Suggests Sneiderman Defense Strategy: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/evidence-suggests-sneiderman-defense-strategy/nYbJ5/
Diff En, Civil Law vs. Criminal Law: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Civil_Law_vs_Criminal_Law
Legal Match, Differences between the Criminal and Civil Justice Systems: http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/differences-between-the-criminal-and-civil-justice-systems.html