In the United States, a person accused of a crime is innocent until the prosecution proves them guilty. The legal process requires that to convict a person of a crime, the prosecution must prove every element of the case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The beyond a reasonable doubt standard is the highest level of evidence the courts in the United States require. All criminal cases require this burden of proof. This article reviews what kind of proof is needed for a conviction.
What Is the Reasonable Doubt Standard?
In court cases in the United States, there are generally three standards of proof necessary for a plaintiff or prosecution to prove its case. These are:
- Reasonable doubt – the highest standard;
- Clear and convincing evidence – a high standard and the common standard for civil cases;
- The preponderance of the evidence – the lowest standard of evidence needed. This standard is used for some civil cases.
Proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt means the jury (or the judge if the trial is a bench trial) believes that no reasonable person using common sense would doubt the defendant’s guilt. This is a high burden of proof; however, it is not the same thing as proving the case beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In criminal law, it is a long-held principle that every person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is wh...
Proving a case by clear and convincing evidence means that the judge or jury believes the defendant is almost certainly guilty or responsible for the claims made against him. This standard does not need to remove all doubt from the minds of the judge or jury, only that the case the plaintiff presented is almost certainly true. This is the most common burden of proof required in civil cases. However, it is never used as the standard for finding a defendant guilty in a criminal case.
The preponderance of the evidence standard is the lowest burden of proof required. Under this standard, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the evidence presented is more likely to be true than not to be true. This burden of proof is used in some civil cases as well as in administrative law cases. However, it is never used for finding guilt in a criminal case.
What Are the Different Types of Evidence?
A criminal conviction usually turns on the body of evidence the prosecution presents and how much evidence is needed to prosecute varies across different cases. The prosecution must prove the defendant committed the crime they’re accused of. The prosecution will build its case on the best evidence available, which will broadly consist of two types of evidence:
- Direct evidence;
- Circumstantial evidence.
Direct evidence is evidence that establishes a fact and generally needs little analysis. It is not limited to only physical evidence, but it does tend to speak for itself. Examples of direct evidence include:
- A witness testifying they saw the defendant commit the crime;
- A video recording of the defendant committing the crime;
- The defendant’s fingerprints on the murder weapon;
- The defendant being accused of a sexual act, and his semen being found during a rape kit examination;
- The defendant’s admission of guilt.
Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, tends to suggest or imply a fact and help paint a picture. Examples of circumstantial evidence include:
- Witness testimony that they saw the defendant near the crime scene at the time the crime occurred;
- The defendant having been convicted of a similar crime in the past;
- The defendant had recently purchased a weapon similar to the one used in the assault;
- The defendant had recently argued with the victim.
Many people charged with a crime wonder whether a jury or judge can convict you without physical evidence? The answer to that question is yes. Physical evidence is not necessary for a jury or judge to convict a person charged with a crime.
What Can I Do If I Have Been Charged?
If you have been charged with a crime, this means that someone made a formal complaint or accusation that you committed a specific offense. There does not have to be evidence gathered against you at this stage.
It’s important that you understand the charges against you and your legal rights. It is always wise to consult with an attorney who specializes in criminal defense. Criminal law is very different from civil law, so you want to be certain the attorney you choose has successfully defended cases similar to your own.
If you do not already have a criminal lawyer, you should ask for recommendations from friends and family or do an online search for a law firm in your area that handles criminal cases. An experienced criminal lawyer can evaluate the evidence against you and explain how much evidence is necessary to prosecute the crime you are charged with.
How Much Evidence Is Needed to Charge Someone With a Crime?
Unfortunately, there does not need to be solid evidence against a person to charge them with a crime. An arrest or charge against someone is only an allegation or complaint that the person committed or participated in a crime. Oftentimes, police or a district attorney file charges against a person when there is not enough evidence to convict them.
However, to make an arrest, an officer must have probable cause to believe the person participated in a crime. In contrast, to detain a person for questioning, an officer need only have a reasonable suspicion the person engaged in a crime or has information about a crime.
If an officer investigating a crime has a reasonable suspicion that the person committed a crime, the officer can seek an arrest warrant from a court. An arrest warrant is an order from the court directing the officer to arrest a person. An arrest warrant is not always necessary for an officer to arrest and charge a person with a crime.
Very little evidence is necessary for police to detain a person for questioning. The officer only needs to have a reasonable suspicion that the person committed a crime or has information about a crime. Slightly more evidence is necessary to charge a person with a crime. An officer only needs probable cause to believe the person committed or took part in a crime.
Can you be convicted without physical evidence? To convict a person of a crime in the United States, the prosecution must prove every element necessary under the criminal statute. In doing so, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. The reasonable doubt standard is the highest standard or burden of proof required in United States courts, and it applies in all legal cases.
Therefore, to be convicted of a crime, the judge or jury must have no reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the charges against them.