4701 Oleander Drive, Suite A
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
“Just because you did it doesn’t mean you’re guilty” – you may have seen this “shocking” billboard/ advertisement for a criminal defense attorney and thought, “Man, they’ll do anything to bring in a case…”
Except, it’s a true statement.
And it’s a perfect opportunity to discuss how our criminal justice system works and how “Just because you did it doesn’t mean you’re guilty” is exactly what every juror in every criminal trial everywhere in our country must understand.
What in the world does it mean?
It’s “beyond any reasonable doubt” – the standard of proof in every criminal case in every criminal courtroom in the USA. Along with the other constitutional rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights, it’s a part of what makes our country’s legal system great and sets us apart from every other country in the world.
So – what exactly does “beyond any reasonable doubt” mean?
Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Just because you didn’t do it doesn’t mean you’re innocent…
Throughout written history, courts of law have had the unfortunate problem of committing as much injustice as they have justice. We have tried to do all we can to fix this problem in America.
With our constitutional rights, Rules of Evidence, and Rules of Criminal Procedure, we have done what we can to ensure that innocent people are not convicted of crimes and that only fair and truthful evidence is admissible in criminal courtrooms.
When all participants – judges, jurors, prosecutors, and defense attorneys – do not follow the rules, innocent people are convicted and sent to prison. Or killed.
After the right to a trial by jury, the most important of these rules is the right to proof beyond any reasonable doubt before you can be convicted of a crime.
The burden of proof is on the plaintiff (the government) to prove that the defendant committed a crime beyond any reasonable doubt.
As a standard jury instruction often read by judges at trial says, “The presumption of innocence is like a robe of righteousness placed about the shoulders of the defendant, and it remains with him unless and until that presumptive robe of righteousness has been stripped from his body by evidence satisfying you of that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
But what does “beyond any reasonable doubt” mean? And how can you be not guilty if you committed the crime?
First, we need to understand that it is okay for guilty people to “go free” when we can’t prove that they are guilty.
Because, otherwise, innocent people will go to prison, not because their guilt was proven, but because a prosecutor or police officer thinks they are guilty.
It helps to understand the different “levels” of standards of proof used in different types of cases in different courtrooms like civil court, family court, and criminal court.
A “scintilla of evidence” is possibly the lowest standard of proof, and it is not enough evidence to even charge a person with a crime. It’s a mere suspicion that the person committed a crime.
Even a reasonable suspicion is not enough evidence to charge a person with a crime, although it is enough to search a person under certain circumstances.
Probable cause is enough evidence to search a person, search their vehicle, search their home, or charge them with a crime. It’s more than a suspicion but something less than halfway there.
It’s enough evidence to charge a person and bring them to trial, but it isn’t enough evidence to convict a person of a crime.
A preponderance of the evidence is enough evidence to find a person is liable for a car crash in a civil case. If the evidence “weighs” even 51% in one side’s favor, then the jurors should decide the case for that side.
If it is more likely than not that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant is usually liable.
If it is only more likely than not that the defendant committed a crime, however, the jury in a criminal court must find the defendant not guilty.
Clear and convincing evidence… is not enough evidence to find a person guilty of a crime.
That’s the standard of proof in the family court when the government is trying to terminate someone’s parental rights and take their children away from them forever. It’s also the standard of proof when a plaintiff seeks punitive damages in most types of civil cases in SC.
Even clear and convincing evidence is not enough to convict someone in criminal court, though.
Beyond any reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof in any courtroom anywhere in the world.
Prosecutors don’t want you (potential jurors) to know this, because, in many cases, it means they lose. Except that is how it’s supposed to work – if the prosecutor does not lose every time they cannot prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, innocent people go to prison or are killed by the government.
What does it mean?
It’s the kind of doubt that would cause a reasonable person to hesitate to act.
It’s a doubt for which you can give a reason.
For example, if there is unidentified DNA from the scene of the crime that indicates someone else may have committed the crime, that should create a reasonable doubt. If the government is attempting to prove its case using a snitch who is a proven liar, and they are telling you to convict someone based on a known liar’s testimony, that is a reasonable doubt.
Whatever the reason you find yourself doubting the government’s allegation, if you can give a reason for it, that is a reasonable doubt, and you must find the defendant not guilty.
Just because you did it doesn’t mean you’re guilty.
And, if the jury, prosecutor, and judge do not protect your constitutional rights including the right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, just because you didn’t do it doesn’t mean you’re innocent…
Just because you did it doesn’t mean you’re guilty.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC, if you have been convicted of a crime and need help filing your appeal, or if you won an appeal and need help retrying your case, call now at 843-353-3449 or email us online to speak with a criminal defense lawyer on the Axelrod team today.
The fields marked with * are mandatory.