How Does The “Presumption Of Innocence” Actually Work?
We are all familiar with the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” Indeed, it is the bedrock of our entire criminal justice system. But what does it mean in practice? Or to put it another way, how does the presumption of innocence work when it comes to a real criminal trial?
The Burden of Proof at Trial
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the presumption of innocence is that it places the burden of proof at trial on the government. The prosecution must present evidence that you committed a crime. You are not required to present evidence or “prove” your innocence in any way. In theory, this means you could simply sit at the defense table and not call any witnesses or present any arguments to the jury.
It also means–and this is a critical point–that you cannot be required to testify or give any evidence against yourself. The right to remain silent applies from the time you are questioned by police up until and during the trial. You never have to testify in court–and the prosecution cannot cite your failure to speak as proof of your guilt. Nor can the jury infer guilt from your silence. Once again, the jury must always begin with the presumption of evidence and rely solely on the evidence presented in reaching a final verdict.
What Is “Reasonable Doubt”?
The only way for the government to overcome a presumption of innocence is to prove each element of the alleged crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Now, there is no precise legal definition of this term. Florida judges will typically instruct juries that a reasonable doubt “is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary, or forced doubt.” But if a juror “wavers or vacillates” as to the defendant’s guilt, that is usually enough to constitute reasonable doubt and must result in an acquittal.
It is also important to note that reasonable doubt is a standard used only in criminal trials. Civil cases typically require a much lower burden of proof called a “preponderance of the evidence.” The different burdens of proof means that it is possible for someone to be acquitted of a criminal charge yet found civilly liable for the same underlying conduct. For example, a person might be acquitted of manslaughter in a criminal trial, but later found civilly liable in a wrongful death action brought by the victim’s estate. There is no conflict or “double jeopardy” violation here, as criminal and civil trials are considered separate legal proceedings.
Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
Even with the presumption of innocence, you should not sit back and do nothing when facing a criminal trial. It is always in your best interests to work with a qualified Orlando criminal defense lawyer who can zealously represent your interests. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.