Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the cornerstone of our American criminal justice system.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence required for a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems (such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States). Generally, the prosecution bears the burden of proof and is required to prove guilt by this standard.
The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” originated in the 1700s in England. For over 300 years, this standard has worked in most civilized societies. The media reaction to the Casey Anthony not guilty verdict is offensive. The media and their multiple talking heads, TV correspondents, and legal “experts” could be heard from Fox News to CNN to HLN ripping on the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. Essentially, there was a mass outcry that the standard is too vague and too lenient.
Implications of the “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” Standard
All of these “experts” and commentators completely missed the boat on this case and the lesson that can be learned from the verdict. The fact is that in high media cases, juries historically hold the prosecution to a much higher burden. The 13th juror, also called the alternate juror, was interviewed on multiple media outlets and indicated that he agreed with the verdict. No matter who proposed alternative strengths in the prosecution’s case, the alternate juror gave comprehensive, well thought out reasons why he agreed with the verdict and why there was reasonable doubt.
In many cases, it can be argued that juries do not follow the beyond a reasonable doubt standard in everyday situations and merely convict when they believe the person is guilty even if there is reasonable doubt. Perhaps juries only hold the prosecution to the BRD standard when there are cameras.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, over 100 people have been found innocent and freed from DEATH ROW after being convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt in the past 7 years. There is no way to tell how many people charged with capital murder have been acquitted at trial during that period but you can be sure that the number is very, very small. According to a study done at Ohio State University, over 10,000 people are wrongfully convicted in the United States every year. Despite these shocking and disheartening statistics, I have not seen 1% of the time or energy spent on these issues as compared to the past 24 hours of media attention on the Casey Anthony acquittal.
I regularly ask my potential jury pools in voir dire (questioning of the jury before the commencement of a jury trial), what is worse, one wrongfully convicted person, or one wrongfully acquitted person. Thank goodness 95% of people agree that one wrongfully convicted person is the worse scenario.
The standard of beyond a reasonable doubt is not perfect but before the media indirectly castrates the jury because of the acquittal by arguing that the BRD standard is vague or insufficient, they should spend some time thinking about the innocent people who have been convicted BRD and killed in the name of justice by way of the death penalty.
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