The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
A Criminal Defense Lawyer in Brainerd, MN Talks About the Different Burdens of Proof
June 17, 2020
Some people might remember the O.J. Simpson murder saga in the early and mid-1990s. In 1995, after a long and sensational criminal trial, a jury acquitted the former football star of double murder charges. About a year later, another jury heard basically the same evidence and concluded that Simpson was responsible for the deaths. That’s perhaps the best example of the different burdens of proof in court cases, as outlined below.
Apropos of nothing, in 2016, NFL “concussion doctor” Bennet Omalu said he would “bet my medical license” that Simpson had a serious brain injury. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain injury commonly associated with football players, would explain Simpson’s erratic behavior and fits of rage, according to Dr. Omalu. But that’s the subject of another blog.
The different burdens of proof affect the way a criminal defense lawyer in Brainerd, MN approaches different cases. Since the defendant is presumed innocent in the United States, the burden of proof is on the state. So, if an attorney casts doubt on the state’s case, the defendant often goes free. Alternatively, weak evidence gives a criminal defense lawyer in Brainerd, MN an edge during settlement negotiations.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Minnesota law usually defines a reasonable doubt as a doubt based on reason and common sense. Many courts have criticized this definition, arguing that it is akin to saying “a white horse is a horse that is white.” Nevertheless, that’s the generally accepted definition in The Gopher State. Some variations, such as reasonable doubt “does not mean a fanciful or capricious doubt, nor does it mean beyond all possibility of doubt,” are acceptable.
DWI-collision cases are a good illustration of the way this standard works in practice. Assume Ben and Jerry hit another car in an intersection. Ben and Jerry are both intoxicated. By the time emergency responders arrive, they have exited the vehicle. Officers arrest Ben for DWI.
Wright County prosecutors could probably prove Ben was in the car, but it would be difficult for them to prove Ben behind the wheel. Another witness, such as the other driver in the collision, would have to testify that Ben emerged from the driver’s side. That testimony would not prove he was driving beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it would establish that fact beyond a reasonable doubt.
Criminal Defense Lawyers in Brainerd, MN and Clear and Convincing Evidence
Child custody, financial fraud, and certain juvenile cases commonly employ this standard of evidence. C&C basically means “the evidence is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.”
Let’s return to the previous example and change the facts a bit. Now assume that Jerry told officers Ben was driving the car. There are a number of reasons to question Jerry’s statement. He was drunk, so his memory and perception are questionable. Additionally, he might have been tattling so officers would arrest Ben instead of Jerry.
So, if the standard was beyond a reasonable doubt, Jerry’s statement might not be enough to convict Ben. But if the standard was clear and convincing evidence, which is a step lower, Jerry’s statement might hold up in court.
Preponderance of the Evidence
Typically, this final standard determines what an individual must prove, as opposed to what the state must prove. A preponderance of the proof (more likely than not) is the standard in most personal injury cases. It’s the standard the Simpson civil jury used.
Picture two stacks of typing paper sitting side by side. Both stacks have the same number of sheets. If a criminal defense lawyer in Brainerd, MN adds one sheet of paper to the stack on the left, it has more paper than the stack on the right. That’s a picture of a preponderance of the evidence.
Once more, let’s look at our DWI-collision example. Now assume the car is abandoned by the time emergency responders arrive. An investigation reveals that Ben owned the car. It’s more likely than not that a car’s owner was driving the vehicle at any given time, unless the owner had an airtight alibi. So, by a preponderance of the evidence, Ben was probably driving the car. Proving intoxication, however, would be a much more difficult matter.