Reasonable Doubt Standard in Criminal Trial – Sarasota Criminal Attorney
Taking a case to trial is necessary in two scenarios. The first scenario is when the State cannot prove the case beyond and the exclusion of all reasonable doubt. The second scenario is when a plea bargain cannot be reached and the State has witness issues. As a Sarasota Criminal Defense Lawyer, taking a case to trial usually means the conclusion of a criminal case in the courtroom.
Proof beyond all reasonable doubt was a concept instituted in the middle ages and established by the eighteen century to provide the highest possible barrier to avoiding a wrongful conviction. It arose because it was believed that any trier of fact (church cleric) who wrongfully convicted somebody for a crime he did not commit was going to hell. Reasonable doubt does not mean small doubt or moderate doubt, but something far greater. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of doubt that exists. Most Federal and State courts today rely on the common plain English definition of reasonable doubt to mean doubt that a reasonably prudent person would have if he or she uses reason and common sense.
In trial, a juror must accept a reasonable doubt until the juror's logic rules it out. Prosecutors often get away with merely making it unrealistic that there is reasonable doubt. In law, unlikely or unrealistic is not enough. There must be no logical way for the reasonable doubt to exist. Any doubt based on reason is still reasonable doubt.
Florida Standard Jury Instruction 2.03 defines reasonable doubt as follows. This is the standard that applies in Sarasota, Manatee and all state courts in Florida.
A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary, or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have a strong conviction of guilt. On the other hand, if, after carefully considering, comparing, and weighing all the evidence, there is not a strong conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is not stable but one which changes, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable… Reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence.
This jury instruction can be confusing especially when applied practically in the trial. It can confuse a juror and make him or her think that they can convict even with reasonable doubt because its definition of reasonable doubt is theoretical. Most courts will not clarify or expand on the jury instruction explanation of reasonable doubt. In closing arguments, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys have the duty to expand on the definition so the jurors understand how to apply it to the real world. We often do so by drawing analogies from real world examples. Similarly, to the same way we make important decisions in real life when there are reasonable doubts. As a Sarasota criminal defense attorney, I often have to educate jurors that evidence of reasonable doubt is sufficient for a not guilty verdict. Jurors tend not to focus on their real-life no-doubts decisions because no-doubt decisions usually take no time to decide.
If you have been charged with a crime click here to speak to an experienced Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney at Pallegar Law for a free consultation to discuss your case.