Reasonable Doubt in Pennsylvania Criminal Trials
Being Arrested Does Not Mean You Will Be Convicted
When a person is arrested or charged with a crime in Pennsylvania and is required to go to trial, his or her guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” by the prosecution in order for that person to be found guilty by a jury or judge.
Proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the highest standard of proof in the legal system, higher than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in civil cases or “substantial proof” in CPS investigations.
What is Reasonable Doubt?
In criminal jury trials in PA, the judge bears the duty to instruct the jurors of what “reasonable doubt” means. Unlike some states Pennsylvania law does not require trial courts to use an exact pre-defined definition, and allows a court to “choose its own wording so long as the law is clearly, adequately, and accurately presented to the jury for its consideration.” (Commonwealth v. Rios, 920 A.2d 790 (Pa. 2007) citing Commonwealth v. Porter, 728 A.2d 890 (Pa. 1999)).
However, Pennsylvania does offer Pennsylvania Standard Jury Instructions that courts can use. Here is a definition of “reasonable doubt” contained therein:
Definition of “Reasonable Doubt” as Used in Pennsylvania Criminal Trials:
“A reasonable doubt is a doubt that would cause a reasonably careful and sensible person to hesitate before acting upon a matter of importance in his own affairs.” (7.01 PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE — BURDEN OF PROOF — REASONABLE DOUBT)
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Although “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the highest burden of proof in the judicial system, contrary to common myth, PA prosecutors are not required to prove guilt beyond any shadow of a doubt:
“Although the Commonwealth has the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty, this does not mean that the Commonwealth must prove its case beyond all doubt and to a mathematical certainty, nor must it demonstrate the complete impossibility of innocence.” (7.01 PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE — BURDEN OF PROOF — REASONABLE DOUBT)
Creating Reasonable Doubt
A criminal defense attorney is not required to prove his client’s absolute innocence. In order to prevail at trial a defendant’s attorney must convince a judge or jury only that reasonable doubt exists as to guilt. Creating this doubt often requires extensive pre-trial case preparation and focused cross-examination in order to expose uncertainties in the prosecution’s evidence.
Contact Shrager Defense Attorneys – Experienced Trial Attorneys in PA
Our Pittsburgh criminal trial attorneys thoroughly understand how to create reasonable doubt in trials. We have decades of experience and successful results defending clients in bench trials and jury trials throughout Western Pennsylvania. Call 412-567-6290 right now for a FREE initial legal consultation. Speak directly with David J. Shrager 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.