If you are facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania, you may have heard about the burden of proof and not know what it means. In the legal context, the burden of proof includes both the burden to produce evidence and to persuade the jury or court that what is alleged to have occurred happened. The burden of proof is different in criminal and civil cases. If you have questions about what it means in your case, DiCindio Law can explain it to you and discuss what the prosecutor will be required to prove to secure a conviction against you.
What is the burden of proof?
The burden of proof refers to how much evidence the prosecutor or plaintiff will be required to present to persuade the jury or court that the incident occurred as the prosecutor or plaintiff has described. When a legal dispute happens, the person who brings the lawsuit will have the burden to produce evidence that demonstrates that the facts that have been alleged are true and sufficient to establish the required elements. The burden may be lower or higher, depending on whether the case is civil, administrative, equitable, or criminal. During the phases of the case, the burdens might be different for each party.
The burden of production is a burden to present enough evidence for the case to be considered. Once the burden to produce evidence has been met by the prosecutor or plaintiff, he or she will then have the burden of persuading the jury or court that what he or she has alleged is true. The burden to persuade ranges from a preponderance of the evidence in many civil cases to beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases.
The person who prosecutes the case will always have the burden of proof, which may include the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit or the prosecutor in a criminal case. In the criminal context, this means that the prosecutor has the burden of proving the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal defendants do not have the burden of proving their innocence. Instead, criminal defendants have the presumption of innocence.
Burden of persuasion
The party that brings the action has the burden of persuasion throughout the case. If a prosecutor satisfies the burden of persuasion beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant will be convicted of the offense. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove all of the elements of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. He or she will likewise have the burden of persuasion to disprove all of the defenses that might be raised other than affirmative defenses.
“Some evidence” as a burden of proof
For inmates that are accused of disciplinary violations, the burden of proof that is carried by the prison officials is very low. They only need to present “some evidence” to show that the violation occurred.
Reasonable suspicion standard
Reasonable suspicion is a fairly low burden that police officers and government agents have when they conduct brief investigatory stops. The stops must be brief to meet this standard. Probable cause is necessary for a more thorough stop and search. Reasonable suspicion is a reasonable belief that someone may have committed a crime or violation like a traffic offense. However, the Supreme Court has held that reasonable suspicion must be articulable, specific, and individualized. A hunch that someone might have done something wrong is insufficient. For example, if an officer pulls you over because he or she thought you looked shady, that is not enough to amount to a reasonable suspicion that you may have engaged in criminal activity.
When you are stopped by the police, the stop is considered to be a Fourth Amendment seizure of you by the officer who stopped you. If you are subsequently charged with a crime, the prosecutor will need to show that the officer who stopped you had a reasonable suspicion that a crime or other offense had occurred. Police officers cannot stop you unless they can identify circumstances and facts that amount to reasonable suspicion.
Probable cause standard
Probable cause is a standard of proof that there is a fair probability that a crime occurred or that evidence of a crime will be discovered in a search. When an officer wants to secure a warrant for a person’s arrest or a warrant to search a home or other location, the officer must submit an affidavit to the court that demonstrates the probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred or that evidence of a crime will be found in the location to be searched. Probable cause to believe that a defendant committed a crime is also the standard that is used by grand juries for indictments and at preliminary hearings for people who are charged with crimes that do not go through the grand jury process. Traditionally, probable cause has been interpreted as meaning that it is more likely than not to have occurred. By contrast, reasonable suspicion requires a lower degree of certainty than probable cause.
In some situations, police officers do not have to have evidence such as when someone with authority gives knowing and voluntary consent to a search. When an officer conducts an involuntary stop to briefly detain and question a person or to pat down the clothing of a person, the officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person has engaged in criminal activity. For example, if an officer sees you in a high drug area talking to someone and appearing to exchange something with him or her, the officer may have a reasonable suspicion to believe that you may have engaged in a drug transaction. This would be enough to pat down your outer clothes and to briefly question you. To arrest someone or for someone to be indicted by a grand jury, probable cause to believe that a crime was committed by the arrested or indicted person is required. In the drug scenario, the officer might have probable cause if he or she finds a needle in your pocket when patting your clothing down, for example.
Some credible evidence standard
The some credible evidence standard is a low standard of proof that is frequently used in Child Protective Services. This standard is used when an intervention is urgently needed to bring the case into the legal process. It is lower than by a preponderance of the evidence, which is the standard used in civil cases. Some credible evidence is a standard that is much lower than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard used in criminal cases. However, some federal circuit courts of appeal have found that this standard is constitutionally insufficient in child protective services hearings.
The preponderance of the evidence burden of proof
The preponderance of the evidence standard of proof is the burden of proof used in most types of civil cases and family court decisions that involve monetary damages. It is also the burden of proof that is held by criminal defendants when they assert affirmative defenses or present mitigating evidence. For example, if a criminal defendant asserts the affirmative defense of self-defense in an assault case, he or she will be required to prove the affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
The preponderance of the evidence standard will be met if what has been alleged is found to be likelier to be true than untrue. This standard is also used when an employee loses his or her job because of allegations of misconduct and seeks unemployment benefits. The employer will be required to prove the misconduct was committed by the employee by a preponderance of the evidence for the employee to be found to be ineligible for unemployment compensation.
The preponderance of the evidence standard is higher than probable cause but lower than beyond a reasonable doubt. Since criminal cases involve the possible loss of liberty, prosecutors must prove the elements of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt instead of by a preponderance of the evidence.
Clear and convincing evidence standard
The clear and convincing evidence standard involves a higher required burden of proof than by a preponderance of the evidence. It is used in certain administrative court decisions and some civil and criminal matters. For example, prisoners who file habeas corpus motions to avoid capital punishment are required to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence.
The clear and convincing evidence standard is used in several different types of cases, including guardianships, paternity cases, child custody matters, the probate of wills, petitions to remove people from life support, juvenile delinquency, and others.
In a case that requires clear and convincing evidence, the evidence that the party presents must be substantially likelier to be true than untrue. The court must have a strong belief in the factuality of the evidence. This is a higher burden of proof than the burden of proof in most civil cases that only require the plaintiffs to prove their cases by a preponderance of the evidence. The clear and convincing evidence standard is used in cases involving equitable remedies or civil liberty interests.
The beyond a reasonable doubt burden of proof
Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in U.S. courts. Typically, this burden only applies in criminal cases. To meet this burden, prosecutors are required to prove each element of a charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If a prosecutor proves some, but not all, of the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, it is not sufficient for a conviction. There must not be a real doubt remaining after the evidence has been considered. If reasonable doubt exists, the burden of proof has not been met by the prosecutor.
Proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proving it beyond all doubt. The doubt must be reasonable. This means that the prosecutor does not have to prove the elements of a crime beyond a doubt based on a fanciful, illogical reason. Instead, the prosecutor must prove the elements beyond logical or reasonable doubts. In other words, the jury must be convinced that there is no other logical explanation from the evidence presented other than the defendant committed the offense. If the jury or court that tries the case does not have a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the offense with which he or she has been charged, the defendant will likely be found guilty.
Beyond a reasonable doubt means that the evidence presented by the prosecutor establishes that the defendant charged with the crime committed it to a degree of moral certainty beyond any reasonable alternatives. Some doubt may exist that the defendant is guilty, but reasonable doubt is not possible from the evidence that is presented to secure a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
The reason why criminal cases require prosecutors to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt is that criminal cases can result in imprisonment or death. In civil cases, by contrast, the defendants’ liberty interests are not at issue, which is why civil cases involve lower burdens of proof.
What the burden of proof in criminal cases means for you
Requiring prosecutors to prove the elements of the offense with which you have been charged beyond a reasonable doubt is meant to protect you. While the prosecutor will not have to prove the charges against you beyond all doubt, he or she will have to prove the elements beyond doubts that are reasonable. You also will not have the burden of proving that you are innocent. The burden of proof remains with the prosecutor throughout your criminal proceedings.
An experienced criminal defense attorney at DiCindio Law will carefully evaluate the evidence against you and identify any problems with the state’s case. Your attorney may conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding what is alleged to have occurred to help to find defenses that might be available to you. Contact DiCindio Law today to learn more about the burden of proof and the rights that you might have in our case by filling out our contact form or calling us at 610.430.3535.
The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes to the law that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments or the most complete legal issues for all cases These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended solely for informational purposes.