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An empty jury box

In theory, no one can be convicted of a crime without a clear certainty of their guilt. For a criminal defense attorney, one of the most challenging tasks is explaining to a juror the levels of proof needed to determine of innocence or guilt. This is probably one of the most important aspects when picking a jury in Michigan.

In the U.S. justice system, conviction in a criminal trial requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest level of proof. The civil court standard, on the other hand, only requires “preponderance of the evidence,” or a certainty of guilt greater than 50%.

But the origins of “reasonable doubt” in the United States only go back to around 1790, when the standard of proof was introduced by the Court. As important as they are to our justice system, the words “reasonable doubt” are not mentioned in the Constitution. Not to mention, it can be difficult to define exactly what “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” even means. One might try to explain it as a truth that is simply obvious.

In order to achieve a conviction in a criminal trial, the defendant does not need to prove their innocence, but instead the Prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is referred to as the burden of proof.

In a criminal jury trial, the burden of proof is the same regardless of whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanors include crimes such as:

Felonies carry harsher penalties and include crimes such as:

The first step in ensuring a fair trial is to select a pool of jurors who are unbiased, but more importantly, those who understand what it means to prove someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be a challenge, especially due to the vague nature of the term’s definition.

As Eisenberg, Garvey, and Wells wrote in their 1996 publication of Jury Responsibility in Capital Sentencing: An Empirical Study, “…it would be better to openly and routinely instruct jurors that the decision they are about to make is, despite its legal trappings, a moral one and that, in the absence of legal error, their judgment will be final.”

The ambiguity of burden of proof allows for a vast difference in outcome based on the opinion of a jury. After all, the burden of proof was created based on the idea that the conviction of the innocent is far worse than the acquittal of the guilty, and a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. For this reason, if you have been charged with a crime, it’s imperative to choose a lawyer like Daniel D. Hajji, Attorney at Law who can fight for you and form a strong defense in your favor.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Michigan, contact Daniel D. Hajji, Attorney at Law for a free consultation at (248) 599-0054.