In the American criminal justice system, a suspect is presumed to innocent until the government proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect has committed a crime. Obviously, the most debatable part of that is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” What types of doubts are reasonable? And, reasonable doubt by whom? If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, it is important to understand this crucial element of criminal law.
What Does Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Mean?
Depending on where you look, you might find dozens of variations on the definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For example, West’s Encyclopedia of American Law says that “beyond a reasonable doubt” means that the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the presented facts is that the defendant committed the crime. Other sources define the standard as proof “to a moral certainty.”
It is also important to remember whose doubt matters in a given case—a consideration that depends on the type of trial. In a jury trial, it is the members of the jury who must be convinced of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury verdict in Illinois must be unanimous so all 12 jurors must agree. Even if the judge has reasonable doubts in a jury trial, only the doubt of the jurors matters. In a bench trial, the judge must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
Intentional Lack of Explanation
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is not the same as “beyond all possible doubt.” A juror or judge may have some lingering doubts that are unreasonable and illogical, yet still return a guilty verdict. It is, however, sometimes difficult for jurors to decide what types of doubts are reasonable and what types are unreasonable. To that end, they will not usually get much direction from the court.
Judges, as well as prosecutors and defense lawyers, in Illinois are advised against trying to define reasonable doubt for juries. In fact, some verdicts have been overturned explicitly because the judge or one of the attorneys tried to explain what constitutes reasonable doubt. Therefore, jurors must usually decide for themselves what reasonable doubt means to them.
Building Your Best Defense
When you have been charged with a crime that you did not commit, you need an advocate who can show the jury that there is enough reasonable doubt to return a not-guilty verdict. Contact an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and your available options. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba today.