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What exactly is “reasonable doubt”?

We all know the burden that the prosecution has in order to prove its case: proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But what exactly does that mean?

In Mississippi, at least during trials, neither a lawyer nor a judge can actually define what “reasonable doubt” is. It actually is INCREDIBLY easy to define. Summed up, reasonable doubt is any reason to doubt anything that the prosecution is trying to prove in its case. If a juror has any reason to doubt anything about the prosecution’s case, that’s reasonable doubt, and that juror should vote not guilty.

But wait a minute… what if I (as a juror) think that the defendant is guilty, even if the prosecution didn’t connect all of the dots? That’s when having a good lawyer comes into play. A good criminal defense lawyer will be able to educate the jury on what that reasonable doubt could be in that situation. For example: I could strongly believe that a particular person may have done something illegal. But just because I think or believe something, doesn’t make it true.

In a jury trial, if I, sitting as a juror, strongly think that someone did some wrongdoing, but the defense offers some evidence that COULD (not does, but only maybe) lean towards innocence, then no matter how badly the prosecution might try to fight, I as a juror, am obligated to return a not guilty verdict. It’s that simple.

Nowadays, though, the problem is that even though we all know what the prosecution’s burden is, very few people really understand how it works. Even more troubling, though, is that not many lawyers know how to explain it in such a way that makes sense. Instead, the prosecution tries to hide the ball from most jurors, and would have a jury make a decision based on what they think happened or how they feel about a defendant; but that’s not how it works.

Because a person’s life and liberty is at stake, the prosecution has the highest burden in the land: they must prove their case beyond any and all reasonable doubt. If there is any evidence that might ---just might--- indicate innocence, then that is a reason to doubt, which means that a jury should return a not guilty verdict.

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