Friday, July 27, 2012

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Its been a while since I've posted any new articles, fortunately we've been busy at the law firm but here is an article written by my law partner, Keith Findlay:

As a Albuquerque Criminal Defense Lawyer we are frequently asked what “beyond a reasonable doubt” really means. Essentially, reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence that applies in criminal cases (as opposed to a “preponderance of evidence” standard which is applicable in civil cases).

In order to find someone guilty of criminal charges, the prosecuting side must convince a jury (or judge in certain circumstances) “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person is guilty of the crime they are charged with. The term “reasonable” gives the evidentiary standard some leeway, as the existence of doubt itself is not enough to get away with the committing of a crime. It has to be doubt in the mind of a reasonable person (i.e. claiming “an alien did it!” would not suffice for a reasonable person). New Mexico statutes defines reasonable doubt as: “a doubt based upon reason and common sense - the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act in the graver and more important affairs of life.”

Generally speaking, a person charged with assault and battery in both a civil (tort) matter and a criminal matter will have a harder time defending against the civil case because the standard the evidence must satisfy is lower in civil cases; an example of these differing standards in action can be seen in the OJ Simpson murder cases. In the criminal case, he was found not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and acquitted, but in the civil case he was found liable for the murder and forced to pay the family damages under the preponderance of evidence standard.

The rationale behind this important standard of evidences makes sense as the United States is a country that is premised on the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” The other important consideration is that with criminal charges the stakes are usually considerably higher because people view life and liberty as inherently more valuable than the money that is commonly at stake in civil legal actions.

Just because the standard of evidence is higher in a criminal case does signify that one should take any criminal charges lightly (because, again, the stakes are so high). I always recommend that someone charged with a crime be sure to discuss their case with a local (as the law can vary from place to place) criminal defense attorney to assure the best representation possible.

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