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What Does “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” Mean?

beyond a reasonable doubt

“Innocent until proven guilty.” This principle forms the foundation for our criminal justice system. In any criminal trial, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution to demonstrate guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But what does that phrase mean? The following is a brief summary from Mark Catanzaro defining “beyond a reasonable doubt” and what it could mean for you.

The Sixth Amendment

According to the sixth amendment in the US Constitution, a jury determines guilt in a serious criminal case. In order to convict someone of a criminal offense, the jury needs to determine that the person charged is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, the jury needs to first assume the person is innocent until the evidence presented in the case demonstrates, without question, that the person charged is guilty.


Now, unfortunately, defining exactly what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means is incredibly tricky. A number of cases show this immense challenge and have presented different ways to define the phrase, as well as different definitions altogether.

Nevertheless, The Model Criminal Jury Charge Committee offers this definition: “The prosecution must prove its case by more than a mere preponderance of the evidence, yet not necessarily to an absolute certainty.” In other words, if a person considers all of the evidence (or lack of evidence) in a criminal case, and still has doubts about the defendant’s guilt, then their guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

It may be helpful to think about it on a spectrum, with “proven not guilty” at the bottom and “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” at the top.

  • Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
  • Most likely guilty
  • Probably guilty
  • Suspected
  • Probably not guilty
  • Most likely not guilty
  • Proven not guilty

So, a person charged with a crime may fall on any point in that spectrum, but they should not be convicted unless they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

An Excellent Attorney Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

If you have been charged with a crime and need legal representation, Mark W. Catanzaro practices criminal defense in Burlington County, Mercer County and Camden County, New Jersey. With over 30 years of experience, he can fight for your rights and defend your case! Contact him today.


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