Thank God for Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt!

Could you imagine if the Judge instructed your jury that they could merely flip a coin to determine whether you were guilty of innocent? Sadly, some trials have been determined that way, and many of my clients feel that’s sort of how “bench trials” go (when a judge, not a jury hears the case).

We need to treasure the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. Sadly, many people today lose their licenses (driver’s, business, etc.) on the concept that the State need only show “material” or “substantial” evidence that you’re at fault. The idea is that since you’re not going to jail, nor paying a big fine, the standard of proof should be very low. Yet, the Founding Fathers did not set up such agencies, and they took their rights very seriously. Agencies can take away your “privileges” so long as they feel there is some evidence that they can point to. It’s a shame. Fortunately, you can appeal their decisions to the District Courts, which, in my opinion, have much better trained judges.

The requirement that guilt of a criminal charge be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt goes way back to our early years as a Nation, and, again, we owe those Founding Fathers a huge debt of appreciation. “The ’demand for a higher degree of persuasion in criminal cases was recurrently expressed from ancient times, (though) its crystallization into the formula ’beyond a reasonable doubt’ seems to have occurred as late as 1798. It is now accepted in common law jurisdictions as the measure of persuasion by which the prosecution must convince the trier of all the essential elements of guilt.’ C. McCormick, Evidence s 321, pp. 681—682 (1954); see also 9 J. Wigmore, Evidence, s 2497 (3d ed. 1940).” In Scotland, as many as 15 jurors can be called upon. The Ancient Jews were also very careful about guilt and innocent (the trial of Jesus was the exception, in which all sorts of laws were broken to get his conviction).

However, there is a debate now as to whether we should move away from that standard. I say, God forbid, just like Paul did in Romans 1:1.

I agree with Mr. Justice Frankfurter, who stated that “(i) the duty of the Government to establish * * * guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This notion—basic in our law and rightly one of the boasts of a free society—is a requirement and a safeguard of due process of law in the historic, procedural content of ’due process’.” Leland v. Oregon, supra, 343 U.S., at 802—803, 72 S.Ct., at 1009 (dissenting opinion).

In the Davis case a murder conviction was “reversed because the trial judge instructed the jury that it was their duty to convict when the evidence was equally balanced regarding the sanity of the accused.” Can you believe that!

The Court reversed and said: ’On the contrary, [the Defendant] is entitled to an acquittal of the specific crime charged, if upon all the evidence, there is reasonable doubt whether he was capable in law of committing crime. No man should be deprived of his life under the forms of law unless the jurors who try him are able, upon their consciences, to say that the evidence before them . . . is sufficient to show beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged.’ Amen to that.

In Utah, you must still be convicted unanimously. However, most felony juries consist of only eight persons, and I submit it should be 12, just like the federal juries &emdash; eight is not enough. To convict polygamists in the 1800s, the feds had a tough time finding 12 non-Mormons, so the number was downsized to 8. And that was a huge mistake, in my opinion. Twelve jurors are much more likely to reduce “the risk of convictions resting on factual error.” You also have natural bias to deal with. A good cross-section of the community is necessary.

The Supreme Court states, “The standard [of proof beyond a reasonable doubt] provides “concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock ’axiomatic and elementary’ principle whose ’enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.’ Coffin v. United States, supra, 156 U.S., at 453, 15 S.Ct., at 403.

A good case to read on this is In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970), a Supreme Court case.

Make sure your lawyer really understands this concept.

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