Reasonable Doubt

To say that someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is to say that “no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.” In more specific terms, 76-1-501(2) stipulates that there are two “elements of offense” which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt:

(a) the conduct, attendant circumstances, or results of conduct proscribed, prohibited, or forbidden in the definition of the offense; (b) the culpable mental state required.

Example Sentence

The evidence against the giant may seem pretty damning; but the size and shape of his feet still do not make him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of leaving that lake in Farmer Ben’s field.

Case Study

In United States legal tradition, the charge of criminal fault is so grave that it cannot be established unless there are no viable possibilities except that the defendant committed the crime. A semi-humorous illustration of the weight of “reasonable doubt” is seen in the 9th episode of the hit series, All in the Family, in which  Edith Has Jury Duty (for the title ends the sentence nicely). In it, Edith Bunker, the [dowdy but deceptively shrewd] family matriarch, is called as a juror for a prominent murder trial and soon distinguishes herself by hanging a jury that has otherwise convicted the young defendant. When berated by an irritated comrade who wants to go home, Edith stands firm on the ground that she had reasonable doubts about the culpability of the “nice-looking young boy.” Her steadfastness is eventually validated when someone comes forward to confess to the crime.

Other Important Information

Reasonable doubt is not the standard used in civil cases—that would be a preponderance of evidence. However, where the commission of civil offense is dependent upon criminal guilt, this principle comes into play.

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Personally reviewed by attorney Ken Christensen

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