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Standards of Proof

Standards of Proof

A burden of proof is a legal benchmark that helps courts to determine whether a claim is valid based on the evidence given. The laws regarding standard of proof dictates how convincing that evidence needs to be. The burden of proof is usually required of a single party in a claim, and in most cases, it is the party filing the claim (the plaintiff) that must demonstrate its validity and bear the burden of proof.

In the practice of law, the burden of proof plays a significant part in most cases because it establishes the responsibility of proving that the claim being made in a criminal or civil case is true or untrue. Based on the type of case, different levels of proof are required. The three most basic standards of proof are as follows:

  • clear and convincing evidence
  • preponderance of evidence
  • beyond a reasonable doubt

The party that has the burden of proof needs to give sufficient evidence to prove their claim. Generally speaking, the prosecutor or the plaintiff has the burden of proof since they are claiming malfeasance by the other party. They have to produce ample evidence such as affidavits, exhibits, eyewitness testimonies, and/or other forms of evidence to convince a jury or judge that the defendant should be convicted in a criminal proceeding or be found liable in a civil matter.

If the party with the burden of proof is unable to present enough evidence of criminal activity or wrongdoing, then the case will most likely be unsuccessful. If you are thinking of filing a lawsuit, it is crucial that you are well-prepared and able to prove your claim. A seasoned lawyer cna help make sure you are ready to file your case.

Burden Of Proof In Criminal vs Civil Cases

Based on the type of case at hand, there are some significant differences in the burden of proof that has to be met. In civil lawsuits, like those involving personal injury or wrongful death, the plaintiff (generally the person filing the lawsuit against the negligent person or persons) is tasked with the burden of proof. They are responsible for proving that the defendant’s actions were the direct cause of their damages. In the majority of civil cases, the burden of proof is known as a preponderance of evidence. In other words, the evidence indicates that the plaintiff’s claim is more likely than not to be true based on the evidence presented.

Depending on the type of case, the plaintiff might also be required to show that the defendant’s actions resulted in harm by backing up the claim with what’s known as clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is a more heightened standard of proof than “more likely than not” but a lower standard of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt which is needed for a criminal conviction.

In terms of burden of proof, criminal cases are quite different. In a criminal case, it is the prosecutor’s responsibility to demonstrate the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while the defendant is presumed innocent. This means that a defendant does not need to establish their innocence, but rather that the prosecutor is required to establish their guilt to the extent that a jury or judge is satisfied.

The term “reasonable doubt” is very precise in its meaning. It means any doubt based on common sense and reason that stems from a rational and fair deliberation of all available evidence, or a lack thereof, in each case. It is not an imaginary, speculative, or vague doubt, but rather a doubt that would lead a reasonable person to hesitate to convict.

The burden of proof can, in some criminal cases, be shifted to the defendant if they need to explain or demonstrate something that might impact the way a jury interprets a piece of evidence. This could occur in scenarios such as claiming an affirmative defense, like self-defense or pleading insanity.

Understanding Burden of Proof

Burden of proof requirements were created to make sure that legal decisions were determined by facts, not conjecture. The party bringing the claim or case must support its arguments with evidence and facts. Lawyers are often shouldered with the responsibility of gathering evidence and demonstrating a burden of proof on their client’s behalf.

Standards of Proof

Reasonable Suspicion

This type of burden of proof is most often used in traffic stops. It requires detailed, articulable facts, which when combined with rational inferences, lead to an officer concluding that the person they wish to detain is, was, or soon will be engaging in criminal activity.

Some Credible Evidence

Of all the burdens of proof, this has the lowest demanding standards when compared to the others. “Some credible evidence” is widely used in administrative law and is most often applied in cases of urgent need for a short time. For example, when a child’s life is in danger, “some credible evidence” is a burden of proof that acts as a legal placeholder until additional evidence has availed itself.

Probable Cause

Before any search warrant or arrest is conducted, the police are expected to follow every stipulation set forth by the Fourth Amendment which gives Americans the right to probable cause. To prove probable cause you must prove a reasonable basis. There are, however, exceptions where an arrest may be made without such a warrant.

Preponderance of Evidence

“Preponderance of evidence” is the lowest common standard of proof. This standard comes into play when a plaintiff fulfills the burden of proof by giving evidence that proves their claim has more than a 50% chance of being true. Essentially, if it can be demonstrated that a claim is more likely to be true than untrue, then the burden of proof has been met. The preponderance of evidence standard primarily applies to civil cases.

For instance, if Hyacinth sues Rose for medical expenses arising from injuries she received in a car accident, Hyacinth will have to convince the court that it is more probable than not that Rose caused the accident that resulted in her injuries. This can be accomplished by partnering with a skilled car accident lawyer who can provide solid evidence that demonstrates that the explanation most likely to be true is that Rose is responsible for her damages.

Clear and Convincing

The evidentiary standard of “clear and convincing” is a greater standard of proof than preponderance of evidence, but less than beyond a reasonable doubt. Where a preponderance of evidence merely requires the claimant to tip the scales in their favor, the clear and convincing standard must show that fault is substantially more likely to be true than untrue.

In other words, to meet the clear and convincing standard, evidence must show a considerably larger (greater than 50%) probability that the claim is valid. By contrast, a preponderance of evidence only needs a probability of at least 51% while beyond a reasonable doubt must be closer to 100%.

The clear and convincing standard is typically applied in civil court cases, such as:

  • Probate of wills
  • Child custody
  • Fraudulent claims
  • Right to die

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The evidentiary standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” holds that no other reasonable interpretation of the evidence given to the court is likely to exist. Most often seen in criminal prosecutions, like murder trials, this is the greatest standard of proof in the United States judiciary system.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt vs Preponderance of Evidence

Since defendants are innocent until proven guilty, the burden of proof rests entirely with the prosecution. The standard of beyond a reasonable doubt requires a prosecutor to supply adequate proof that no other conclusion or plausible interpretation is possible. The defendant must be guilty.

Although proving this standard means proving the defendant is almost certainly guilty, it does not require that certainty to be absolute. For this standard to be met, the prosecutor must demonstrate that there can be no rational doubt about the guilt of the defendant. The jury must then decide if any doubts are unreasonable or reasonable.

As mentioned earlier, to meet the preponderance of evidence burden, a plaintiff only needs to show that the event probably took place. Beyond a reasonable doubt is a much greater standard because the prosecution needs to eradicate all reasonable doubts.

The Effect of a Criminal Conviction

A criminal conviction may have serious repercussions that could affect a person’s life even after they have served their sentence by impacting their ability to obtain credit, housing, and a job. It could also result in the termination of their civil rights. These include the right to serve on a jury, own a firearm, and vote.

A criminal conviction can also lead to:

  • Fines
  • Incarceration
  • Counseling/Rehabilitation
  • Community service

The elevated burden of proof required in a criminal case is designed to protect people from unfair convictions and accusations. It guarantees that prosecutors supply enough evidence to demonstrate the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. Also, the presumption of the defendant’s innocence protects their rights and ensures that someone is convicted only when the evidence against them is irrefutable.

Criminal Cases and the Presumption of Innocence

In matters of criminal law, one of the most prominent tenets is the presumption of innocence. This means that all defendants are regarded as innocent until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This tenet puts the burden of proof on the prosecutor to supply adequate proof to convince a judge or jury that a defendant should be charged. The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is vital to making sure that people are not wrongfully accused and convicted of unlawful acts they did not commit.

Along with safeguarding a person’s rights, the presumption of innocence also plays a major role in strengthening the public’s confidence in the legal system. Without it, anyone could be supposed guilty based on nothing more than wild indictments, and the legal system would have no credibility. Demanding a greatly increased burden of proof helps to ensure that only the guilty are punished for criminal acts.

Burden Of Proof Regarding Negligence

The cornerstone of any personal injury case in civil court is negligence on the part of the defendant. This means that the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate that the opposing party violated the duty of care they owed and, as a result of this violation, the plaintiff incurred damages. If the defendant failed to act in the same manner as a reasonable and prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances, then that is proof of negligence.

Understanding the variations between contributory negligence, gross negligence, and negligence will help understand what to expect from your case. Regardless of the circumstances under which your accident took place, you should consult with an experienced nationwide personal injury lawyer in order to achieve the best outcome possible in your case.

Insurance Claims

When an insurance claim is filed, the claimant must shoulder the burden of proof by establishing that they are entitled to financial compensation based on the terms of their insurance policy and proffered claim. Insurers use courts to decide which carrier is liable for paying out coverage when more than one insurance company is involved.

It is not uncommon for the insured to have multiple policies, all of which cover related or similar risks, or for one party’s insurer to file a lawsuit against another in cases of traffic accidents involving multiple vehicles. The insurance companies must prove either that another insurance carrier is liable for the damages or that the damages were the result of an event that is not covered by the policy.

In some situations, furnishing evidence that proves insurance coverage applies can be complex, like when someone’s home is demolished by a hurricane. The homeowner’s policy may provide coverage for damages caused by water but not wind. The policyholder will have to show that the destruction was due to water damage, while the insurance company will work to show that it was caused by the wind. The courts will ultimately decide that one or even both were responsible for the damages to the home.

Example of Burden of Proof

Daisy decided to invest $10,000 with Invest Worldwide, an investment firm that has excellent customer ratings and lots of rave reviews online. Unfortunately, just eight months later, supposedly due to a downturn in the market, Daisy’s $10,000 investment is completely exhausted.

She strongly suspects that the loss of her considerable investment was the result of Invest Worldwide’s mismanagement of her funds, not a downturn in the market as they claim. In this case, the burden of proof would lie with Daisy. She will have to prove to the court just how Invest Worldwide’s mismanagement of her money resulted in the loss of her entire investment and not any sort of shift in the market.

Take Aways

Standards and Burden of Proof in a Civil Case

The burden of proof in a civil matter is the responsibility of the individual who files the lawsuit (the plaintiff). The standard of proof in these cases is a preponderance of the evidence. The plaintiff needs to persuade the judge or jury that their claim is more likely to be true than untrue.

Standards and Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case

The burden of proof in a criminal matter lies with the prosecutor. They need to convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt on the charges brought against them. The standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Standards and Burden of Proof in an Insurance Case

In insurance cases, the policyholder shoulders the burden of proof. The policyholder must demonstrate that the damages they are claiming are covered by their insurance policy. On the other hand, the insurance company has the burden of showing that the policyholder’s damages are not covered by their policy and they are not liable for the claim.

Why Are Standards and Burden of Proof Important?

Standards and burdens of proof are the legal benchmarks for establishing who is responsible for giving evidence that defeats or proves a claim, and how much evidence is necessary to satisfy that requirement.

If you have a legal matter for which you need assistance, do not hesitate to give us a call. We can help get you to the right lawyer for your particular situation and set you up with a consultation to discuss the particulars of your case.

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