Inevitably in any criminal case a client will bring up the issue of the burden of proof. Since the advent of the detective novel and the emergence of popular television police shows, most clients know that the prosecution carries the burden of proving a case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but what does that mean?
Every crime consists of elements or facts which must be proven at trial and while “beyond a reasonable doubt” sounds like an incredibly high threshold to meet, in reality it simply means that enough evidence has been presented to convince a judge or jury that each element has been met. And because some of us are more easily swayed than others, the burden is not always as heavy as it should be.
When your neck is on the line in a criminal case, you need a defense attorney who not only knows your case but can convey the factors in your favor in a convincing manner. Because emotions may run high during a trial which could cloud the judgment of a judge or jury and lead them to overlook “reasonable doubts” in their haste to punish a perceived wrong, it’s your attorney’s job to raise those doubts persuasively. While the prosecution may carry the burden of proof your attorney conversely carries the burden of making any doubts sound reasonable. If your dog indeed ate your assignment, you’d want your attorney to show just how much your dog loves to eat paper. An equally important factor to consider is who must be persuaded, a judge or a jury? The general district court does not offer a defendant the option of a jury trial, that option is reserved for the circuit court, but there are some advantages to having a bench trial before a judge. One factor of course is cost, an attorney will normally charge less for a bench trial, but a judge also offers the benefit of having an experienced person weigh the merits of your case. On the other hand, in the circuit court, a jury offers the benefit of having several people consider the facts instead of just one. The choice between a judge or jury in the circuit court is usually up to the defendant and your attorney should help you make an informed choice based upon the facts of your case. A technical case requiring legal analysis may very well be better suited to be heard before a judge while a case involving day-to-day factors may be more suited for a jury of your peers who may understand your situation much better than a stuffy judge sitting on an ivory bench. Unfortunately we live in an imperfect world where A+B does not always equal C, but your attorney is there to assist you through the process. As your primary source of information your attorney should be able to explain your charges, the elements or facts that must be proven at trial and help you choose between a bench or jury trial and do it all persuasively.