What is a burden of proof?

What is a burden of proof?

What is a burden of proof?

Over the past year, my wife has been hooked on watching some of the recently released documentaries about famous legal cases and crimes. I am sure many of our readers have watched a part of the documentary on Robert Durst called The Jinx, ESPN’s series on O.J. Simpson, or Making a Murderer, which focused on Steven Avery’s trial.  As an attorney, many of my friends have asked me random questions regarding the legal issues in these shows. Many of the recent questions have been focused on the fact that O.J. Simpson was found not guilty in his criminal trial, but lost the civil case filed against him. Does this mean he was found guilty of murder?  Could he still have gone to jail for losing his civil case?  How did one jury find against him, while the other jury found for him? First, it is important to point out the difference between the civil and criminal justice systems.  A criminal case is brought by the local, state or federal government in response to an alleged violation of the law and generally pursues a fine and/or jail time.  On the other hand, a civil case is brought by a party called the plaintiff to generally collect money owed, money for damages, or request an injunction. While there are many factors that could have played into the juries’ decisions in the Simpson trials, one factor was likely the different burden of proof standards.  In a criminal case, the prosecutor has the burden of proving the case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  This means it is the prosecutor’s job or “burden” to prove his or her case to the point where the jury does not have any “reasonable” doubt the defendant is guilty.  The defendant does not have to prove his or her innocence and, instead, only needs the jury to have reasonable doubt about whether the crime was committed.  This is a very high standard and can be difficult for a prosecutor. The burden in a civil case is much lower and is referred to as a “preponderance of the evidence.”  A preponderance of the evidence simply means the greater weight of the evidence or what side of the case is more likely true. For example, while someone obviously cannot put percentages on their belief, if the jury was 51% convinced the individual bringing their civil claim was correct, then that person would win the civil case. Therefore, while many other factors were likely at play, such as the elements of the crimes and claims, the heightened burden of proof was likely a factor in the different decisions.  While we will never know, the jury in the criminal case may have thought O.J. Simpson was more likely than not guilty, which would have resulted in a decision against him in a civil case.  However, despite thinking he was likely guilty, the jurors could have had reasonable doubts that resulted in the not guilty verdict.