What Does Reasonable Doubt Really Mean In Criminal Law?

If you have the great misfortune of being arrested for a misdemeanor or felony offense and you do not qualify for any type of pre-trial diversionary program you may have to go to trial before a jury or judge. The law of criminal procedure requires that a judge, or jury of your peers finds you ‘guilty beyond a reasonable doubt’ of every element of the crimes charged.

We’ve heard this term quite a bit on TV shows and in movies, but what does it really mean, and how does a defense lawyer go about introducing reasonable doubt?

We think it’s important for you to understand the concept of reasonable doubt, because it can sometimes be the difference between a long prison sentence and an acquittal.

The Meaning of Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Criminal Defense CasesThe standard of proof in a criminal case is known as proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which means that in order for a jury to convict a defendant in a criminal trial, they must believe that the prosecution has presented evidence that is so compelling, that no one other than the defendant is responsible for the crime. This does not mean beyond all doubt, just reasonable doubt. It does not have to be a mathematical certainty!

However, this is still a high standard to achieve without rock-solid evidence from the commonwealth, and that’s why many defense lawyers will sometimes introduce evidence or expert witnesses to create enough doubt in the minds of the jury to defeat the prosecution’s case.

For example, if the prosecution presents blood alcohol evidence in a DUI case which asserts the guilt of the defendant, the defense team must question whether the blood was tainted and not to be relied upon as valid evidence. This could be from improper handling by hospital personnel, poor lab testing and/or mishandling by the police.

That could create enough doubt in the mind of just one juror to prevent a unanimous verdict, and in criminal trials, the jury must be unanimous on each charge to convict any defendant.

In criminal cases which rely on testimonial or circumstantial evidence, a good defense attorney must create doubt by calling into question the assumptions that the prosecution is making and defeating the credibility of the witnesses.

You Need an Aggressive Defense Attorney 

Criminal law has established a defendant’s right to legal counsel, but not all defense attorneys are the same. When you have been arrested on a misdemeanor or felony charge, you can’t afford to hire just any law firm, you must closely examine that firm’s experience as well as its rate of success in obtaining acquittals or in getting charges reduced. A conviction from any criminal charge carries a potential prison sentence, and many states now have mandatory guidelines that a judge must follow when deciding how much time you must  spend in prison.

The Law Offices of Steven F. O’Meara is an experienced office handling a wide range of criminal defense cases, and over decades of experience we learned that hiring an experienced lawyer right after your arrest is the most effective means to protecting your rights. For more than 25 years, this law firm has crafted defense strategies for our clients. Our first goal is to ensure that your arrest was lawful, and that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. Then we try to find common ground with the prosecution to lower the charges or discuss alternative methods of justice. And finally, if we proceed to trial, we will do everything possible to show reasonable doubt and prevent a conviction. Please call us today at 610-565-9200 for an immediate consultation.

Additional Reading

Why Every Criminal Defense Lawyer Wants You To Remain Silent

Top 3 Arrests during the Holidays