What's the Burden of Proof in Pennsylvania Criminal Cases?

The burden of proof plays an important role in criminal defense cases because it determines whether a defendant can be convicted or acquitted based on the strength (or lack thereof) of evidence presented by both parties. 

If you find yourself facing criminal charges, it’s important to understand how this legal concept works so that you can plan accordingly with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Once you have an understanding of this concept, you can begin building your best defense possible against the charges that have been brought against you.

What Does Burden of Proof Mean? 

What Does Burden of Proof Mean? 

The burden of proof is the standard the prosecutor must satisfy to obtain a conviction. In other words, it’s the responsibility of one party (the prosecution) to provide evidence for a claim or accusation against another party (the defendant). In criminal proceedings in Pennsylvania (and everywhere else in the United States), the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

The Meaning of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of proof that prosecutors must meet to convict someone of a crime. For a person to be convicted, the prosecutor must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. This is an incredibly high burden of proof, as it requires evidence that leaves no room for any other conclusion than guilt.  

It’s important to note that “beyond a reasonable doubt” does not mean “proof beyond all possible doubt” — this would be impossible to achieve and requires absolute certainty, which isn’t always possible in criminal cases. Instead, it means that no other reasonable explanation can come from the evidence presented at trial.

In practice, this means that if jurors (or a judge) find themselves unsure about whether someone committed a crime after considering all available evidence, they should return a verdict of not guilty.

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Raises Reasonable Doubt

When someone is charged with a crime, their criminal defense lawyer will use every possible tactic to disprove the prosecution’s case against them. These tactics are used to establish reasonable doubt and counter any evidence presented by the prosecution. Here are some of the ways that criminal defense lawyers try to disprove the prosecution’s case against their client. 

Attacking Credibility of Witnesses 

One of the most common strategies used by criminal defense lawyers is attacking the credibility of witnesses to cast doubt on their testimony. This might include questioning whether they have any bias against the defendant or asking if their memory may be compromised due to drug or alcohol use. The defense attorney may also focus on inconsistencies between what witnesses said in court and what they stated during earlier interviews with law enforcement. 

Challenging Physical Evidence 

Another strategy used by criminal defense attorneys is challenging physical evidence presented by the prosecution. This involves scrutinizing how evidence was collected and handled to identify any errors made during this process that could render the evidence unreliable or inaccurate. For example, if a piece of physical evidence has been contaminated or mishandled, it could be excluded from being considered as part of the prosecution’s case against the defendant.  

Presenting Counterarguments 

In addition to challenging evidence presented by prosecutors and questioning witnesses under cross-examination, defense attorneys can present counterarguments that support their client’s innocence. This could include providing evidence such as alibi witness testimony or introducing expert testimony from forensic scientists or medical professionals who can provide insight into key aspects of the case. 

It could also include calling on character witnesses who can speak positively about the defendant’s character and reputation to show they are unlikely to have committed such a crime.

A successful criminal trial requires experienced counsel who understands all these strategies and more for disproving a prosecutor’s case against their client. A criminal defense attorney doesn’t have to prove that their client is innocent; they must simply convince the judge or jury that there is some doubt in the case about their client’s guilt. 

If you need help with your case, contact us online today to schedule a free consultation with a trusted West Chester criminal defense lawyer at Dicindio Law, LLC, or call our offices at (610) 430-3535.