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What is proof beyond a reasonable doubt?

All cases that are decided by the court system, whether civil or criminal, have a burden of proof placed upon them. The burden of proof is the degree of evidence, or validation that the plaintiff or prosecutor must establish to win a case. If their evidence fails to meet this burden of proof, the case will likely be dismissed.

Criminal and civil cases have different burdens of proof, with criminal cases requiring a far higher standard. In criminal cases, the burden of proof is known as “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Civil cases, such as personal injury lawsuits, require a lower burden of proof, known as “preponderance of the evidence.”

Understanding how proof beyond a reasonable doubt differs from other burdens of proof is essential for anyone considering legal action in Colorado. Continue reading to learn more, then contact Zaner Harden Law for personalized guidance from a personal injury attorney.

proof beyond a reasonable doubt

Defining “beyond a reasonable doubt”

When a criminal case is brought before the court, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to successfully convict them. This is the highest standard of proof used in the court system, and it leaves no room for uncertainty about the defendant’s guilt.

To meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor must demonstrate to the jury that there is no logical explanation for what occurred, other than the defendant’s guilt.

If the prosecution can only show that it is probable or likely that the defendant committed the crime in question, they have not met this burden of proof. Rather, the jury must be convinced that the defendant’s guilt is virtually certain, leaving no reasonable level of doubt in their minds.

Beyond a reasonable doubt vs. preponderance of the evidence

In civil cases, such as personal injury, wrongful death, or medical malpractice lawsuits, the burden of proof is considerably lower than that required for criminal cases. Instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the plaintiff only needs to establish that the defendant is more likely than not liable for their injury or damages.

This burden of proof is known as a “preponderance of the evidence.” Unlike the burden of proof for criminal cases, this one does allow for the possibility of reasonable doubt. The judge or jury is not required to believe, beyond any doubt, that the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s losses — only that it’s likely or probable.

50.1% certainty

Here’s another way to look at it: proof beyond a reasonable doubt requires near-100% certainty, while a preponderance of the evidence only requires 50.1% certainty. We can illustrate this with a hypothetical case in which a defendant faces both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit for the same event. If the evidence in both court cases suggests an 80% probability of guilt, the defendant will likely be held liable for civil damages but found not guilty of criminal charges.

The “why” behind the burden of proof

The burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is reserved exclusively for criminal cases due to the severe and life-altering consequences of a conviction. Convicting someone of a crime usually results in social stigma and significant restrictions on their freedom. Requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt greatly reduces the odds that an innocent person will wrongfully have their rights removed.

While being held liable for civil damages still has unfavorable implications for the defendant, the consequences aren’t nearly as severe. In most cases, the defendant will only have to pay a monetary award to the plaintiff. This consequence doesn’t remove the defendant’s basic rights or freedom, which is why a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient in civil cases.

The role of evidence in meeting the burden of proof

The judge or jury’s degree of certainty will depend almost entirely on the strength of the evidence presented. All evidence is not created equal, and certain types of evidence may be more or less likely to meet the required burden of proof than others.

The challenge: Circumstantial evidence

Meeting the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt can be particularly tricky when the evidence is largely circumstantial. This is evidence that suggests something occurred without providing any direct proof, and the jury may need to draw inferences from it.

For example, if security footage shows the defendant running away from the scene of a crime, it could imply that the defendant committed the crime, but it proves nothing conclusively. This type of evidence is likely to leave some reasonable doubt in the jury’s minds. In contrast, if another piece of security footage shows the defendant committing the crime, that evidence could be enough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Most cases aren’t so black and white, though. A single piece of evidence can rarely provide the jury with absolute certainty, so the jury usually has to consider the combined weight of all the available evidence to meet the heavy burden of proof imposed in criminal cases.

We can help you build a strong personal injury case

Even though the burden of proof in civil court cases is lower than criminal ones, it’s still important to present a compelling case when seeking damages for personal injury. Solid evidence is necessary to meet the preponderance of the evidence standard and receive the compensation you deserve, and the attorneys at Zaner Harden Law can help you collect and present that evidence in the best light possible.

If you or someone you love was harmed due to someone else’s negligence, contact us today at (720) 734-8335 for a free consultation with a Denver personal injury attorney. We’ll help you determine if you have a viable case and guide you through your legal options.

Contact our Denver Personal Injury Law Firm Today For Help

For more information please contact Zaner Harden Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free initial consultation with a Denver personal injury lawyer.

Zaner Harden Personal Injury Lawyers

1610 Wynkoop Street, Suite 120. Denver, CO 80202
(720) 613 9706

Where We Are

We are located across the street from Union Station in downtown Denver and offer validated parking for all our clients. We also have offices in Boulder and Colorado Springs.