In courtrooms across Colorado, including Denver, Jefferson, and Adams County, there is a standard of proof (or burden of proof ) which the District Attorney must meet during the trial. We often hear terms like “burden of proof,” “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of the evidence,” and “clear and convincing,” but we don't often understand exactly what they mean. In this blog, we're going to discuss some common terms and what they mean in criminal and civil cases throughout Colorado.
Preliminary Hearings and the Standard of Proof
When you have been charged with a crime like Unlawful Sexual Contact, a preliminary hearing will be set. During this hearing, the judge is looking for probable cause that you committed the crime. They aren't looking to be convinced you actually did commit the crime, they are simply looking at whether or not there is enough evidence to move forward with your case. During this hearing, the “evidence is weighed in a light most favorable to the prosecution.” They are looking to find evidence which supports your guilt in order to decide whether or not to move forward with the case in Douglas, Arapahoe, or El Paso County.
Preponderance of the Evidence in Civil Cases
In civil cases, the standard of proof is different. The preponderance of the evidence means a jury must be convinced that certain facts are more likely than not (more than 50% likelihood). This is a low level of certainty, and is used in civil courts to determine who wins. This level of certainty (or standard) is also sometimes used by judges when they determine whether or not certain facts or evidence will be allowed in a criminal case (admissibility of evidence).
Clear and Convincing
This standard is also used in civil cases. But, it is used when more is at stake (such as parental rights). According to Colorado Statute 19-3-604, the “clear and convincing” standard is based on a more than 50% likelihood, but isn't as strong as “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
This standard of proof is the highest in the justice system. In order for someone to be convicted of a crime in Colorado, the jury or judge must find this high standard of proof has been met. But, what is “beyond a reasonable doubt?” The definition can be found in the Colorado Jury Instructions regarding criminal cases 3:04. It says:“Reasonable doubt means a doubt based upon reason and common sense which arises from a fair and rational consideration of all the evidence, or lack of evidence, in the case. It is a doubt which is not vague, speculative or imaginary doubt, but such a doubt as would cause a reasonable people to hesitate to act in matters of importance to themselves.” Colorado Jury Instructions for Criminal Cases
As you can see, this is a strict standard to meet. To put it simply, think about an important decision in your life. Let's say you are going to get a life-changing surgery. You meet with the surgeon, and you're not sure he's experienced enough to perform the operation. Your level of doubt is a bit too high to trust him. The same goes for a criminal case. If there's enough doubt in your mind that a defendant committed a crime, you have a duty to say he is “not guilty.”
Why You Need a Lawyer if You've Received a Criminal Complaint
Unfortunately, most jurors aren't familiar with the rules about the standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is why you need an outstanding criminal defense attorney fighting on your behalf in the courtroom. The skilled criminal lawyers at our office carefully instruct the jury and remind them of their duty to follow the rules of the standard of proof. Don't go into court alone – work with a lawyer who has a thorough understanding of the rules of the court.Request a Free Consultation