If the state of Illinois accuses you of a crime, you don’t have to prove that you’re innocent. Instead, the state has to prove that you’re guilty. That’s called the burden of proof, and this guide explains how it works.
What is the Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case?
The burden of proof is the standard by which a person accused of a crime must be found guilty or not guilty. The prosecution (the state or federal government) must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard of proof.
A defendant does not have to prove his or her innocence. The presumption of innocence is a constitutional right. Once the prosecution presents evidence, the defendant may present evidence to try to show that he or she is not guilty.
The burden of proof is always on the prosecution, and it never shifts to the defendant. The prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, no matter how the defendant chooses to defend himself or herself.
What Does Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Mean?
The phrase beyond a reasonable doubt is not defined in the Constitution. It is a common-law standard that has been interpreted by the courts.
Beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that the prosecution’s evidence must be perfect or without error. It also does not mean that the jury must be absolutely certain of the defendant’s guilt.
Instead, beyond a reasonable doubt means that, after considering all of the evidence, the jury is persuaded that the defendant is guilty to a moral certainty. In other words, if there is any reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt, the jury must find the defendant not guilty.
What is the Difference Between Probable Cause and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
Probable cause is the standard of proof used to justify an arrest. An officer must have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it.
Probable cause is a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. Probable cause only requires that the officer have a reasonable belief that the defendant is guilty.
For example, an officer may have probable cause to arrest a defendant for driving under the influence if the officer observes the defendant driving erratically. However, the prosecutor would still need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was actually DUI.
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