Texas, like all other states in this great country, has the Beyond a Reasonable Doubt law. The way that I explain this concept to jurors is by telling them my own story dealing with this legal concept.
In law school I had to sit as a juror during a mock murder trial. At the end of the case, all of the other student jurors were talking and deciding on whether the defendant was guilty or not guilty. I thought that he might be guilty. I kept asking myself over and over again, “how sure do I have to be?” I was not positive that the guy committed the murder. I was pretty sure. Little did I know that soon this burden of proof would be a concept I would be explaining to juror after juror for the rest of my legal career.
How Sure do you have to be when you find someone guilty? You have to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt. This is how sure you have to be if you, as a juror, are going to convict another man or woman of a crime. It is the highest amount of “sure” that exists in the legal world. In order to explain how truly “sure” beyond a reasonable doubt means, defense attorneys use the below enclosed picture during trial (there are variations of this chart, but they all amount to the same basic concept):
With each step up the stair case of certainty, a person becomes more confident in the truth of the matter. If there is no evidence (the bottom stair), then a person has absolutely no idea. If there is a tiny bit of evidence, the person might have a vague clue. And, the steps go up from there. At the very top of the stair case is the word guilty. Only if you are sure beyond all reasonable doubts may you find a man guilty. If you have a doubt, and it is reasonable, the answer, my friends, is not guilty.
While this concept may seem dry on its face, it is the most important concept that exists in the legal land for criminal defendants and attorneys (arguably).
This beyond a reasonable doubt concept is called the burden of proof. If someone has a burden hanging over them, they have something heavy that they have to do. The State of Texas has the burden– the thing hanging over them that they have to do.
That is, the State has the burden to prove the case. The defense, conversely, does not have the burden to prove anything. The Defense does not have any burden to prove innocence. This Beyond a Reasonable Doubt law is a safeguard that our justice system has, which attempts to prevent innocent people from going to jail.
During a Trial, How Does Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Come into Play?
A. The Criminal Defense Attorney
During a trial, the defense will explain the concept of beyond a reasonable doubt so that the jurors become educated about how sure they have to be to convict someone. The goal from the defense side is to try to make sure that jurors know that any reasonable doubt at all, means that by law, the defendant is not guilty. The goal for the defense is to make sure the jurors understand the importance of their job, and that they cannot convict someone on a hunch. A juror cannot convict someone merely because they look like a criminal.
B. The Prosecution
The prosecution attempts to do exactly the opposite type of explaining than that of the defense. If the prosecution could avoid the beyond a reasonable doubt lesson all together, it likely would. The beyond a reasonable doubt rule is an obstacle for the prosecution because it reminds the jurors that we are not to assume a man is guilty. The State has a big job to do. In order to minimize the affect of the law, the prosecution will state that there is no legal definition of beyond a reasonable doubt. They will remind the jurors that they do not have to be 100% sure or sure beyond all doubt. They will tell the jurors that the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is met every single day. In saying this, they will give the jurors permission to find the defendant at hand guilty.
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Texas Law: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Sec. 2.01. PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that he has been arrested, confined, or indicted for, or otherwise charged with, the offense gives rise to no inference of guilt at his trial. Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974. Amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, Sec. 1.01, eff. Sept. 1, 1994.
Resources on “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”
History on the Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Burden of Proof