Understanding the Standard of Proof in Criminal Cases
Evidence is information that is used in the courts that are presented to persuade the courts and the jury of the probability of the truth, based on some fact asserted in the case. Information and evidence are used to prove or disprove a case - but what exactly is‘ the standard of proof’ in a criminal case?
That is what we will be discussing in this post today. Read on to learn more about the standard of proof in criminal cases, as well as the burden of proof. We’ll also discuss what it means, and how to be proven guilty in a criminal trial in the UK.
What Is the Standard of Proof?
The standard of proof refers to the amount of evidence that is necessary and needed to prove an assertion or claim in a trial in court.
The party must establish the facts to prove and support the case for it to succeed. ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’ would be an example of a very high standard of proof - the court has to be convinced that there is ‘no doubt’ that something is true.
The higher the stakes are, the higher the standard of proof will be. The highest stakes arise in criminal cases, where the conviction can mean imprisonment.
The Burden of Proof
The burden of proof is sometimes known as the ‘onus’. In the criminal justice system in the UK, the burden of proof lies with the government. It is the obligation of the prosecutor, not the defendant to prove the case of the crime charged.
The burden of proof falls on the prosecution. The standard required of them is that they prove the legal burden of the case against the defendant. In criminal proceedings, proving a crime must be beyond a reasonable doubt in all elements of the offence.
The Crown Court expresses that it requires the jury to be ‘satisfied so that you are sure’ of the defendant’s guilt. This is described unofficially as the 99% test, whilst unofficially a 51% test is described as ‘on a balance of probabilities’.
The burden of proof falls on the claimant in civil cases. The standard required of them is that they prove the case against the defendant. Opposing sides can be held to different standards of proof.
If at the end of the trial when all the evidence has been presented, the prosecution has not discharged the burden, then the case will fail as the burden has not been discharged by the magistrates or jury.
Presumption of Innocence
‘Presumption of innocence’ refers to the right of the party in question to have the courts prove them guilty of a crime, rather than having to prove themselves innocent.
The government has the burden of proving a criminal case and the accused is always innocent until proven guilty.
The prosecution system must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury or the magistrates should only convict if they are sure of the defendant's guilt.
Some circumstances can allow the burden to fall or shift to the other party. In some criminal cases for example where a defence of insanity is raised.
This is available to all crimes and refers to when a defendant was unable to understand what he was doing based on their mental state and being unable to understand what they were doing was wrong.
It is then for the defence to establish the burden on a balance of probabilities, e.g., to a civil standard.
In civil cases when there is a preliminary issue, the burden is sometimes conveyed as a ‘good arguable case’ or ‘much the better of the argument’.
In cases such as these, the court is not in the position to weigh the evidence in its totality and will make the necessary assessment.
When the burden of proof on the defendant is to establish a particular issue. It is often referred to as a ‘reverse burden’. This is because it reverses the normal situation where the prosecution must prove the facts beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution must prove facts in criminal cases if it is to succeed - together with any fact that the defendant may wish to raise in his/her defence. The prosecution must prove all the elements of the offence.
Fact-finding is all part of a criminal trial and with its verdict - the court makes the decision as to whether all elements of the offence have been proved.
The two parties put forward their evidence in front of the courts to support a particular version of the facts. It is then up to the courts to decide which version it favours as the truth, based on all evidence and the trial before them.
There are rules that govern how this process is conducted. This ensures that the defendant received a fair trial and is not wrongly convicted or convicted unfairly. The rules include the rules of evidence and the rules of procedure.
Bell Lamb & Joynson
Bell Lamb & Joynson can be your go-to solicitors for all your criminal law issues. We have a team of expert criminal law solicitors that will defend your rights and be right by your side every step of the way.
We are one of the most experienced criminal defence solicitors in the whole of the North West of England. Our clients stem from right across the region and nationally too, whatever the case we can help you find the most positive outcome.
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