What's the Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases?

The burden of proof in a criminal case is the standard a party must meet to prove its case. The burden of proof is higher in criminal proceedings than in civil cases. 

To prove their case, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. It is the highest standard of proof because a person’s freedom or life could be at stake.

What Are the Burden of Persuasion and Burden of Production?

What Are the Burden of Persuasion and Burden of Production?

A criminal defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. At a criminal trial, the prosecutor has the burden of persuasion. The state must convince the factfinder (i.e., a judge or the jurors) that the defendant committed the criminal charge to the degree of the burden of proof.

The prosecution also has the burden of production. The prosecution’s job is to produce convincing evidence to support a proposed fact. The burden of production is a matter of law. The judge decides whether the prosecution has met the evidence standard to have the matter decided by a trial.

What Is the Difference in the Burden of Proof for Criminal Cases vs. Civil Cases?

The issues being decided by a trial dictate the level of proof that must be met for a party to win the case. None of the burdens of proof require a party to prove their case by 100 percent. However, the various levels of proof differ on how sure a jury or judge must be to find in favor of a specific party.

Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is used as the burden of proof in felony and misdemeanor criminal cases. The state must convince every jury member that there is no reasonable explanation for the crime other than the defendant committed the acts. 

Evidence a prosecutor might use in a criminal case includes, but is not limited to:

  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Physical evidence
  • Expert testimony
  • Forensic evidence
  • Video and photographic evidence
  • Charts and diagrams
  • Testimony from law enforcement officers

The Kentucky Rules of Evidence govern whether specific evidence may be introduced in court. For example, a defense attorney may file a motion to suppress evidence. The lawyer argues that specific pieces of evidence are inadmissible.

For example, hearsay is generally not admissible as evidence in a criminal trial. The attorney may argue that evidence from an illegal search and seizure is not admissible, or evidence from an arrest without probable cause cannot be used against the defendant. 

If the judge agrees that evidence is not admissible, the state cannot use the evidence at trial. In some cases, throwing out evidence could result in the state lacking sufficient evidence to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proof by a Preponderance of the Evidence

Most civil cases require a party to prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence. That means a party must convince the trier of fact that there is more than a 50% chance that the allegations are true. This level of proof is the lowest burden to meet.

This burden of proof is used in most personal injury, family court, and administrative law hearings. In civil cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. 

Proof by Clear and Convincing Evidence

Proving allegations by clear and convincing evidence is on a level somewhere between beyond a reasonable doubt and a preponderance of the evidence. 

Proof by clear and convincing evidence requires the plaintiff to prove that a fact is substantially more likely to be true than not to be true. It is used in some civil court cases, such as cases involving punitive damages.

Are Defendants in Criminal Cases Required to Prove Their Innocence?

A defendant does not have a burden of proof in a criminal case. He is presumed innocent until the state proves its case. However, trusting your fate to a jury or judge is not wise.

It is in your best interest to hire a criminal defense lawyer to handle your case. A criminal attorney investigates the charges against you. He gathers evidence and assesses various affirmative defenses you can raise, including:

  • Entrapment
  • Lack of probable cause
  • Self-defense
  • Lack of capacity to stand trial (mental defect or disease)
  • Alibi 
  • Innocent by reason of insanity
  • The statute of limitations has expired
  • Actions because of duress, necessity, or emergency
  • Defense of others or property

If the police arrest you for a crime or you are under criminal investigation, it is in your best interest to seek legal advice immediately. The sooner you have an attorney representing you, the better chance you have of beating the criminal charges. 

Schedule Your Free Consultation With a Louisville Criminal Defense Lawyer

Our experienced criminal defense attorneys have considerable trial experience. We are also aggressive negotiators. Call our office at (502) 371-7000 or contact us online for a free case evaluation before you plead guilty or accept a plea deal.