Last year, a critically-acclaimed miniseries created a resurgence of interest in one of the most talked about criminal cases in our nation’s history. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story was broadcast as a 10-part series on the cable network FX and recounted the so-called “Trial of the Century,” in which a former football star-turned-actor was acquitted of the brutal murders of his ex-wife and her friend. The series was recently made available on Netflix, bringing the 22-year-old case back into the public spotlight once again and increasing its popularity even further.
For those who may have been too young to remember, much of the nation was shocked at the announcement of the not guilty verdict on October 3, 1995. While there seemed to be a vast difference in opinion regarding his role in the murders—which seemed to divide along racial lines—the jury’s decision took much of the country by surprise. It turns out that, despite a large amount of evidence that seemed to tie Simpson to the crime, the jury was not convinced of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
What is Reasonable Doubt?
In any criminal proceeding, it the responsibility of the prosecution—the government—to prove the facts of the case and the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The qualifier “reasonable,” however, makes the standard rather difficult to define. When a case is being turned over to a jury, the jurors are not often told exactly what reasonable doubt means. They may be offered a rather vague understanding of the phrase, but what is reasonable to one juror may not be reasonable to another.
As a general rule, reasonable doubt is understood as doubt that is based on reason and common sense, not pure speculation or feelings. Reasonable doubt can be created by carefully reviewing the available evidence or due to lack of enough evidence. Many jury instructions include an admonition that provides that it it’s the jury’s duty to acquit if they are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt and their duty to convict if they are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
The standard of beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest in any area of the law. In a civil trial, for example, the plaintiff must prove his or her case “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which essentially means that the plaintiff’s version of the story is more likely to be true than not true. A civil trial, however, deals mostly with money. The outcome of a criminal trial, on the other hand, could result in penalties including imprisonment and other limitations to personal freedom. As such, the standard of proof must be very high to minimize mistaken convictions, even if it means that prosecutors may fail to convict a guilty defendant on occasion.
If you have been charged with a crime, it is crucial that you understand the law and your available options. Contact an experienced Wheaton criminal defense attorney to discuss your case right away. Call 630-933-8400 for a free consultation at our law firm today.