Sometimes referred to as “to a moral certainty,” the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” is somewhat foggy. To paint a better picture, compare it to the phrase: 

“You better be damned sure.”

In general, it’s a term meant to portray a tougher standard of evidence. Thanks to crime shows, most people know that in order to convict someone of a crime, a jury must find that person guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, many are left uncertain about what exactly proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” means. In criminal law, there are a variety of different burdens, each applying to different situations. We explain them below:

SEE: What Can You Do When Questioned by Law Enforcement?

Reasonable Suspicion

The first burden in criminal law is referred to as “reasonable and articulable suspicion.” This is actually a relatively low burden of proof. Before any police officers can stop to search a person, they must have reasonable, articulable, and specific suspicion of a crime. According to the law, police officers can’t stop and search you simply because of a “hunch”—or for profiling.

Probable Cause

Probable cause is a slightly higher burden than reasonable suspicion. Probable cause is a burden of proof that allows for a search or arrest of an individual. Additionally, this is the burden of proof that calls for a search warrant being issued. According to the US Supreme Court, probable cause is “more than bare suspicion.” 

While probable cause may end up in someone being arrested, it isn’t enough to actually convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt.

Preponderance of the Evidence

Preponderance of the evidence is typically used when someone violates the conditions of their probation. Additionally, this is also used to show an affirmative defense for certain crimes by a defendant.

SEE: Spent the Night in Jail? Here’s How to Tell Your Boss

Clear and Convincing Evidence

This is the second-highest burden of proof, second only to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” While it’s a very high burden of proof, it isn’t technically as convincing as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In order to make a conviction with clear and convincing evidence, a party must provide a “firm belief or conviction that the allegations are true.”

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In order for a jury to find someone guilty of a crime, standards must be met. The state of Texas has their own explanation of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” law. According to the Texas penal code, this is classified as “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Texas transcript continues:

Sec. 2.01.  PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that he has been arrested, confined, or indicted for, or otherwise charged with, the offense gives rise to no inference of guilt at his trial. Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974. Amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, Sec. 1.01, eff. Sept. 1, 1994.

To put it simply, a jury can’t just convict on a hunch. Additionally, they can’t convict on just probable cause, or because they think it’s likely, or even if they think it’s highly probable.

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