Understanding the Difference Between a Burden of Proof and a Standard of Proof

Understanding the Difference Between a Burden of Proof and a Standard of Proof

If you are a fan of any one of the numerous legal dramas playing out on television throughout the week, the chances are good that you have probably encountered the terms “burden of proof” and “standard of proof”. Like many elements of the legal process, these particular phrases are often discussed and, unfortunately, used in the incorrect context. That being said, drawing a clear distinction between these two concepts is relatively easily to do.

For starters, it should be made clear that both the burden of proof and standard of proof are deeply interconnected. In fact, without a burden of proof, the need for a standard of proof would not exist!

Defining the Burden of Proof

When either a civil or criminal case moves to trial, the burden of proof is assigned to one of the two parties involved, either the prosecution or defense (or, in a civil trial, the plaintiff or the defendant).

At any given time, it is entirely possible that the burden of proof could shift from one party to the other. The best possible way to demonstrate this is to examine the framework for a criminal trial.

Generally speaking, the prosecution carries the burden of proof in a criminal case due to the fact that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is therefore the responsibility, or the burden, of the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is, indeed, guilty.

That being said, certain situations may arise where the defendant and their legal council must prove that their particular claims can be validated using the evidence at hand. For example, if the defense hopes to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, they assume the burden of presenting the evidence needed to justify that claim. Although the prosecution carries the burden of proving that the defendant did commit the alleged crime, it is the burden of the defense to prove that the defendant committed the act in question in such a way as to void legal repercussions that may have been assigned otherwise.

Yet another excellent example of a situation where the defense must assume the burden of proof is when self defense is being used to justify an action. Here, the defense is required to prove that even though the accused may have committed a violent act, it was necessary to ensure that they themselves were not harmed.

As a rule, a defense which requires the accused and their legal council to assume the burden of proof is commonly referred to as an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense does not seek to refute the claims of the prosecution that the accused committed the act in question, but rather attempts to prove that the reason for these actions voids the potential legal repercussions.

Exploring the Standard of Proof

Once the prosecution / plaintiff or the defense has assumed the burden of proof, the extent to which they must prove their case is commonly referred to as the standard of proof.

Depending upon the nature of the trial at hand, the standard of proof can change dramatically. For example, the standard of proof for civil trials is often set at “clear, cogent, unequivocal, satisfactory, convincing evidence”. In more common terms, it is understood that the standard of proof for civil trials involves successfully arguing that there is more than a 50% chance a claim is true.

The standard of proof changes dramatically in criminal trials, however. Given the fact that the stakes at these trials are significantly higher than those in civil court, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. In the US court system, this particular phrase is the highest standard of proof enforced.

The Implication of the Standard of Proof

It would be impossible in many scenarios to prove conclusively that someone did, indeed, commit the crime they were accused of. If, for example, there is no direct witness to a crime, the evidence presented can only go so far in proving that the accused is actually guilty. It is this dilemma which is reconciled with the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof. Rather than saying that the prosecution must prove conclusively that the accused is guilty, it is asked that they demonstrate guilt to an extent which no reasonable juror would question.

This standard of proof can be considered successfully established when a juror feels that all evidence provided clearly demonstrates that the accused is guilty of the crime in question, even if there is no direct eyewitness testimony linking them.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured in an accident and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today at (760) 394-6554 for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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