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What is a reasonable doubt in criminal law?

On Behalf of The Law Firm of Brent D. Ratchford |

No one can be convicted of a crime in North Carolina unless the prosecution can prove that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The term “beyond a reasonable doubt” implies that any reasonable person would have no doubt left in their mind about a person’s guilt. This burden of proof is higher than reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Innocent until proven guilty

Even if there is a lot of evidence against a person, the prosecution may not be able to prove that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s because under this strict burden of proof there can be no single doubt left. If just one issue is raised that could cause some doubt about a person’s guilt, this may be enough to say that they are innocent in the eyes of the law.

One of the most important aspects of the U.S. legal system is the idea that letting a guilty person go free is less egregious than falsely convicting an innocent person. That is the idea behind the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” Therefore, the larger burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defense.

Civil cases are different

Criminal law is different from civil law when it comes to the burden of proof. In most civil lawsuits, there is a lower standard of proof called a “preponderance of evidence.” In a civil case, a plaintiff may succeed is winning against a defendant who was found innocent in a criminal trial stemming from the same incident.

Raising a doubt

If you are being charged in criminal court, you may not have to disprove every piece of evidence that is being used against you to be found innocent. Instead, you will have to present one issue that is substantial enough to raise a doubt.