What is the Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases?

What is the Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases?

In over a decade of practice, I have found that one of the things that confuses juries the most is that they are not sure how to define “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Everyone knows that in criminal cases, whether in Mississippi or any other state, the prosecution has the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Everyone knows that phrase, but very rarely does anyone ever ask what exactly it means.

What is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt in Mississippi?

In Mississippi, our state supreme court does not allow for lawyers (whether for the prosecution or defense) to expressly define “beyond a reasonable doubt” to a jury — at least, not during a trial. That being said, in other courts, including Mississippi’s federal courts, the burden is typically explained to the jury so that they can understand their role and the prosecution’s burden of proof.

The beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard is the highest burden of proof. When we say burden of proof, we are referring to the obligation the prosecution has to prove the charges or allegations against a defendant. Under this burden, the prosecution must present enough evidence so that a reasonable person would not question whether a defendant is guilty. I like to think of it like this: if there is a reason to question (or doubt) any part of the prosecution’s case, then the prosecution has not met its burden, and the jury should return a verdict of not guilty. This is very different than other standards encountered in criminal cases. For example, to initiate criminal charges against someone, an officer only needs to have probable cause, or a reason to believe that a particular person may have committed a particular crime.

Contact a Mississippi Criminal Defense Attorney

The thing to remember about standards in criminal cases is this: while it may be easy to initiate charges on someone, it is incredibly difficult for a prosecutor to ultimately convict someone. A criminal defense lawyer’s job is not only to defend a person’s rights, but also to educate a jury as to what the prosecutor’s burden is, and make sure that the jury understands that if there is any reason to doubt or question any part of the prosecutor’s case, then the prosecution cannot win their case. Contact Calderón & Williams today if you or someone you know has been accused of committing a crime. 

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