Under our justice system whenever a matter proceeds to trial, the party filing the case is always required to present evidence to prove their claims.
The law calls this “The Burden of Proof.”
In a criminal case, this burden is on the prosecutor representing the government and in a civil case, it’s on the plaintiff.
If the burden of proof is not met in a criminal case, it results in a not guilty verdict and in a civil case a no cause of action verdict or dismissal.
Criminal prosecutions require that the prosecutor prove each part or element of the charged crime(s) “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In civil lawsuit cases the burden is lower and requires proof by a “preponderance of the evidence” or alternatively “clear and convincing evidence.”
Now for some explanations and definitions.
A reasonable doubt is a fair, honest doubt growing out of the evidence or lack of evidence. It is not merely an imaginary or possible doubt, but doubt based on reason and common sense.
For the preponderance standard, the plaintiff must prove the evidence to be persuasive and the claims being made are more likely than not true.
When the clear and convincing standard applies, the evidence must be strong enough for the judge or jury to have a clear and firm belief that the claims are true.
The required burden in criminal cases is higher for a number of reasons including the fact that a criminal conviction can result in incarceration and has other long-term consequences.
Why is the burden of proof important?
One of the reasons is that before a case is filed it is imperative that there be a decision made as to whether the burden can be met. If it can’t there’s no real reason to file it and if unprovable or false claims are made, the law provides that sanctions or penalties may apply.
Another reason is to ensure that before a person’s freedom or property is taken, a case is properly proved.
Historically the beyond a reasonable doubt standard and the civil preponderance standard trace their roots back to English common law.
The clear and convincing standard is a product of American jurisprudence.
I rest my case.