The U.S. Courts Glossary defines standard of proof simply as the “degree of proof required.”
Typically Utah courts use one of three different types of standards.
1) Beyond a reasonable doubt
This means that the judge or jury cannot have any doubts that the person is guilty. Typically, it is only used in criminal or delinquent cases. It is the highest standard set by the courts since the defendant’s liberty is at stake.
2) Clear and convincing evidence
This means there is a high probability that the evidence is true. Someone can still have some doubts, but he must believe that the
evidence weighs significantly more to one side. Courts use this for some civil cases and juvenile cases like removing parental rights. It is an intermediate standard.
3) Preponderance of the evidence
A party must simply convince the court that the evidence is more likely than not. The courts use this lowest standard in civil cases.
A criminal case has a different standard of proof for guilt than a civil case.
O.J. Simpson was tried for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1995. Contradictory evidence left the jury with a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. They found him not guilty. In 1997, the families of the victims brought a wrongful death claim against Simpson. The jury found it more likely that Simpson was guilty than not. The court ordered him to pay $8.5 million in damages. While the jury could not convict Simpson under the “reasonable doubt” criterion, they could with the preponderance of the evidence.
The Standard of proof differs from the burden of proof. The burden refers to whose responsibility it is to prove a claim. Standard then sets the bar for how well the party must prove that claim.
A judge must instruct the jury on which standard of proof to use in a case.
Photo “evidence of organized light” copyright by Jared Tarbell.