Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The Highest Burden of the Law

Americans since the beginning have stood against the State’s power to imprison citizens at a State officer’s whim. This is why the Constitution requires proof of all elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, what the Founders called “to a moral certainty.” Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden in the law, requiring that the State eliminate all reasonable alternatives to their story of the case. That is a very difficult burden, especially when a trial lawyer (who understands trial strategy and many of the scientific shortcomings of field sobriety “tests” and the breath machine) stands between the prosecutor and the jury. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas no longer allows trial courts to define “beyond a reasonable doubt” to the jury, so it is extra important that you have a lawyer who can educate the jury on how high that burden is. Otherwise, the jurors will convict you if they just “think” you are guilty, which is not nearly as high of a burden.

The are several levels of proof in our legal system.
  • Near the bottom is “reasonable suspicion.” A driver can only be stopped based on reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Weaving in your lane is usually not reasonable suspicion if you stay within your lane - you must appear to violate a traffic law such as speeding, defective lights or otherwise. If the officer cannot prove reasonable suspicion for the stop, your case may be dismissed by the judge, or a jury may be instructed to consider whether the stop was illegal.

  • The next level of proof, the proof required for an officer to make an arrest, is “probable cause” - i.e. reasonable and trustworthy information that a person has committed a crime. Not surprisingly, an officer usually finds his own opinion to be reasonable and trustworthy. He also finds the field sobriety “tests” and breath machines reasonable and trustworthy, because he has been told that they are by DPS personnel. However, probable cause is still a few levels below “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The next level above probable cause, “by a preponderance of the evidence,” means “more likely than not.” This is the level of proof used in civil trials for monetary (economic) damages. One side must only show that it has a slightly better case than the other side to win.

  • The next higher level, “clear and convincing evidence,” is the level required for the state to take kids away from parents because of abuse or neglect. Notice that even though family is extremely important, one of the most important things in life (the most important to many of us), the law holds that freedom and the presumption of innocence is more important. That is why, to be convicted of a crime, handcuffed, and locked in a cage for a period of time, you must be proven guilty by a burden two steps higher—not just up to a reasonable doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the jurors should not have any common sense doubt that the citizen is guilty of the crime alleged or the juror must vote for acquittal. Our Founders and those who still believe in our Constitution hold that liberty is the highest of American values, and for this reason we require proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal trials.