What Is the Burden of Proof?

What Is the Burden of Proof?

In a criminal case, there are two things that the prosecution needs to secure a conviction. Along with criminal intent, they also need to establish a burden of proof in order to prove someone’s guilt. 

The term “burden of proof” describes the standards that evidence must meet before the courts will consider it valid. Burden of proof applies to both civil and criminal cases, and it helps to ensure that when charges are filed they are not based on empty evidence. There are different types of standards for different circumstances. In criminal cases, this means proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Who Does the Burden of Proof Belong To? 

In criminal cases, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. The threshold to prove the burden of truth is higher in a criminal case. It must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Here is an example:

Outside of a crime scene is a footprint. The tracks are a common brand and size of shoe. During the investigation, a suspect is found. A neighbor vaguely remembers seeing the suspect wear this type of shoe. 

In this example, the evidence has failed to meet the burden of proof. This is because of the ability to fit this evidence to many different people. However, it depends on the circumstances—coupled with other incriminating evidence, it might be admissible as circumstantial evidence in court. 

There Are Two Types of Burden of Proof

The burden of proof can be broken down into two different categories: the burden of production, and the burden of persuasion.

Burden of Production 

This means proving that there is enough evidence to warrant a trial. The burden of production is the first step in a civil and criminal lawsuit. By reviewing the prosecution’s case, a judge can determine if they have enough evidence to go to trial. This is not a judgment on the case, merely a way to ensure that the courts are not wasting their time on litigations with baseless and unfounded charges. 

Using our example above, if the shoe print and the testimony of the neighbor were the only evidence the prosecution had, the case would not meet the burden of production and the charges would be dismissed. 

Burden of Persuasion

During a criminal trial, the burden of persuasion is not just convincing the jury that a crime took place, but also that the defendant committed that crime. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, using the evidence they have collected.  

In the example above, the prosecution would have to compile further evidence to convince the judge or jury that the defendant committed the crime. The defense attorney might instill doubt by arguing that the shoe prints are so common that it’s impossible to prove they belong to the defendant, or they might produce evidence that the witness is unreliable. 

What Burden of Proof Means for Your Case

If you have been charged with a crime, your lawyer might start speaking about the burden of proof. Often, if the burden of production cannot be met, your lawyer will fight for the case to be dismissed before ever going to trial. If your case is going to trial, then your lawyer will work with you to build a strong defense to the claims made against you. 

Criminal Defense Attorney in Arizona

When fighting criminal charges in Arizona, you need a lawyer who has extensive experience in the state’s justice system. Todd Coolidge has over 25 years of success defending clients in the Phoenix area. You don’t have to do this alone—if you are facing criminal charges, contact us today for a consultation on your case. 




Images used under creative commons licence – commercial use (4/1/24). Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash.