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By Bo Kalabus
In Texas, the government has the burden of proof in a criminal case. What this means is the State of Texas has the burden to prove the Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You may wonder just what is the definition of proof beyond a reasonable doubt? Our legislature has not provided us with a definition. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt means whatever you believe it means, but is also the highest burden in the land. This all makes very little sense without a background on what the burdens of proof are.
The lowest burden of proof in our justice system is reasonable suspicion. A police officer must have a reasonable suspicion a crime has been committed in order to stop/detain an individual. Reasonable suspicion is defined as “articulable facts” for example like a person’s taillight is broken on their vehicle.
In order to arrest an individual, a police officer needs to hurdle the next legal burden called probable cause. What probable cause means is the officer possesses sufficiently trustworthy facts to believe that a crime has been committed. An example here is after stopping someone for speeding, the officer smells alcohol on the person’s breath and conducts field sobriety tests on the person—which they fail—and the officer arrests the person.
Preponderance of the evidence is the next level of proof and usually comes in to play in a civil lawsuit for money damages such as a car wreck case. What’s interesting about preponderance of the evidence is this burden gives us a picture of the scale of proof because it is defined as 51%–just like this–if you can get the football across the 50 yard line on a football field you win the game.
This brings us to the second highest burden of proof is which is clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is defined as a strong conviction or belief. This is the burden that Child Protective Services has to meet to remove children from a household. It’s also the burden a plaintiff has to meet in a civil action to be awarded punitive damages—damages that are levied against the other party purely as a punishment.
Most people would require a high degree of certainty before he or she would be willing to declare that a child should be removed from a family home. Proof beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal matter is even higher than that! Remember there has to be “proof” beyond reasonable doubt. Proof. Proof is evidence and the government must have this evidence.
Perhaps our legislature will one day provide us with a definition of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Until that happens it remains undefined, yet it is the highest burden in the land.