Proof: Should Not be Convicted Without It

What is the Burden of Proof?

In any type of criminal case, when you go to court, the prosecuting attorney has the burden of proof. This means the prosecuting attorney must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is required by the prosecution to establish facts and evidence in the claim that is brought up to the court. The burden of proof has to be satisfied by the judge before your case can be brought before a jury trial.

In the Texas Penal Code Sec. 2.01, it is defined as all persons are presumed to be innocent and no person can be convicted of an offense unless each element is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that the defendant has been arrested or confined, or indicted for or otherwise charged with a crime, the defendant’s offense gives rise to no interference at the defendant’s trial. This means no matter what your situation is, you will always be considered innocent until you are proven guilty in the State of Texas Courts.

What is Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?

There has been no clear set standard of what type of proof is considered “beyond a reasonable doubt” and this has been debated ever since it has been in effect. This standard is set so prosecutors can avoid the wrongful convictions of a defendant and so your liberties are kept safe.

Generally, the evidence of the prosecutor must be strong enough so a reasonable person would not question the defendant’s guilt. There have been some attempts at a broad definition of what this means. There are some courts that believe the jury must have moral certainty when deciding the guilt of the defendant.

When you have a jury deliberating over the case, the prosecuting party will want the evidence to be so convincing the jury would be willing to act upon whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the crime being charged upon him or her. The jury must engage in a careful consideration of all the evidence and remain impartial until they hear all the evidence presented to the court. Although navigating what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means, we can understand what it does not mean. Once we identify what the lower levels of proof are, we can then have a better understanding of what is considered “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

The first lower standard of proof is reasonable suspicion; this is mostly used for traffic stops by law enforcement. This burden requires specific, articulable facts that have been considered and with rational deduction, it leads the officer to detain a person that was or will be engaged in a criminal activity.

An example of this is if a police officer is driving along the road and sees a vehicle swaying on the road from side to side, this type of driving would then trigger the officer to follow the driver of the vehicle for awhile. While following the driver of the vehicle, the officer may notice the vehicle continues to sway from side to side, and at that point, the officer decides to turn on his siren and pull the driver over to check on the driver’s status. This is an example of a reasonable suspicion which led the officer to pull over the driver of the vehicle to check on him or her for the safety of others. However, an officer can pull over a driver of a vehicle to simply check on the driver’s wellbeing and to see if they are having any car issues or other kinds of circumstances.

What is Probable Cause?

This second lower standard of proof is probable cause, which officers must have to arrest a person. Probable cause means there may be facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe an individual has committed or is committing a crime. There are four types of probable cause: observational evidence, circumstantial evidence, officer expertise and evidence from the information.

Observational evidence is anything the officer may see, hear or smell at a potential crime scene. An example of this is when an officer receives a phone call and is requested to do a welfare check on someone and then the officer hears someone inside screaming. In this situation, the officer has enough probable cause that someone could be endangered and therefore the officer can enter the house.

Circumstantial evidence is when there are a set of facts and when they are all put together, the facts can suggest a crime could have been committed. This is different from direct evidence and needs to be supplemented with another type of evidence. Direct evidence is evidence a witness can hear, see or smell, such as a witness’s testimony they saw rain outside. An example of this would be when a witness saw someone flee from the scene of a crime. Even though the witness saw someone run away from the scene of the crime, this is not enough to demonstrate the person running is guilty of a crime. Multiple pieces of evidence can be brought together by the prosecutor to draw a picture that the defendant committed the crime.

An Officer Expertise is when an officer is skilled in certain aspects of law enforcement and they may be able to read the crime scene and determine if a crime occurred. For instance, a police officer who works under a fire marshal’s command will have a better understanding of whether a fire is an arson crime than a police officer without that expertise. And lastly, evidence from the information gathered by the police officer’s radio calls, witnesses or confidential informants; are all part of probable cause and all of these types of evidence for probable cause are still considered the second lowest standard of proof for an officer to make an arrest.

The Third Lowest Standard: Preponderance

This level of standard is more commonly seen in civil cases, where a person can be sued for monetary damages. But as with some criminal cases, such as theft or robbery alongside the criminal case, the prosecuting party can sue you in civil court for damages. It is proof supporting a story their claims have a 50% chance to be true. For instance, if an individual sues a defendant for a car crash, the individual will have to convince the courts it was probable the defendant caused the crash that resulted in damages.

Clear and Convincing Evidence

This kind of burden of proof is the second highest standard. It requires the prosecutor to show evidence in a way that shows the court the fact as a firm belief or conviction. The prosecution must establish the charges you are being charged with are greater than a 50% probability the charges are true. An example of this would be trying to obtain a restraining order. You will need proof of harassment, phone call logs, text messages, witnesses and more. You would need to prove to the court the matter is serious enough to warrant a restraining order.

The Standard of Proof vs. the Burden of Proof

The issue with the burden of proof in the State of Texas is you have to think of it as a pyramid. The higher the standard of proof is, the less likely cases will be able to meet that standard. For instance, if there is an equal number of arrested convictions in the courts, the courts would expect that some situations can pass the “probable cause” threshold, but not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold.

The reason for this is the prosecutor is responsible for presenting the evidence to the court in a way that will persuade the jurors to believe the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt or close enough. Another reason why prosecutors hold the burden of proof and why the standards are so high, is so that the prosecutor attempts to avoid the wrongful convictions of people. The consequence of being found guilty is very severe, as it is not only life-damaging, but also the freedom of the defendant is being put on the line.

Need Help? Call Us Now!

Do not hesitate to call us if you find yourself or someone you know who is facing these criminal charges, as they can hold serious consequences. We will work with you to give you the best type of defense that can help you solve your case. It is vital to have someone explain to you the result of your charge(s) and guide you in the best possible way.

Here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we have professional and knowledgeable Criminal Law attorneys who are experienced in building a defense for you that suits your needs for the best possible outcome that will benefit you.

We offer complimentary consultations via Zoom, on the phone or in-person.

Call us today at: 281-810-9760.

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