The Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case
When an individual has been charged with a crime, he or she is presumed to be innocent until he or she is proven guilty in a court of law. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is the highest in any area of the law, and justifiably so. Other areas of law deal primarily with concerns related to money and property, but a criminal defendant often faces serious punitive consequences, including, in some states, the death penalty. While capital punishment is no longer used in Illinois, a criminal conviction can still change a person’s life forever. The standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt looks to ensure that only the truly guilty are convicted and subsequently punished.
The Government’s Role
News stories and television programs often make reference to the idea that the victim of a crime can press charges against the alleged perpetrator. This, however, is only partially true. It is possible for a victim to file a police report and to cooperate in the prosecution of an alleged offender, but it is up to the government to decide whether or not to actually pursue a conviction. Depending on the nature of the offense, the prosecution may be handled by a United States Attorney in federal court or by the State’s Attorney’s office in the appropriate Illinois county.
If a prosecutor elects to file formal criminal charges against a suspect, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. This means that the attorneys for the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offense for which he or she has been charged. Case law and jury instructions from around the country require the trier of fact—a judge or jury member—to acquit the defendant if there is any reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. A defendant is not required to prove his or her innocence.
The Role of a Defense Attorney
Because the prosecution in a criminal matter has the burden of proof, why are defense attorneys so important—especially if the defendant is innocent? A defense attorney serves a number of purposes, but his or her most critical roles are to ensure that the rights of the defendant have not been compromised and that proper court procedures are followed at all times. To protect the rights of the defendant, a defense attorney will review police reports, arrest records, affidavits, and indictments, looking for any inconsistencies. A defense lawyer is also responsible for challenging arguments and evidence offered by the prosecution—particularly if the evidence is circumstantial but has been presented as indisputable fact.
Contact a Skilled Defense Attorney
A criminal case can be very complex, and you should not consider navigating it alone. If you are facing criminal charges, contact an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Jack L. Zaremba is equipped to help you fully understand your options and will work with you in making the best possible decisions. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.