Presumptions, Standards Of Proof And Burden Of Pro Essay

This essay has a total of 2229 words and 8 pages.

Presumptions, Standards Of Proof And Burden Of Proof

The outcome of a trial, whether it be civil or criminal, can have a tremendous impact on
the lives of the parties involved. It is the wish of any reasonable person that the
perpetrator of an evil faces the penalties of his or her actions while the innocent be
awarded a favorable outcome, whatever that entails. This is the outcome that any honest
legal decision-marker strives to achieve. If the all the relevant facts were readily
available and their authenticity assured, then a judge or jury could confidently reach a
verdict knowing that the outcome is consistent with the actual events that took place.
This is not to imply that knowing the facts assures a just ruling, but only that no
confusion exists as to what actually took place and therefore the verdict reflects what
actually took place. In a great number of cases the choice between innocence and guilt is
not clear cut, yet a decision must be reached nevertheless. It is often the case that the
trier must make a decision based upon an incomplete and unsatisfactory picture of events.
The judge must also acknowledge the possibility that the plaintiff or defendant is lying
in order to have his or her way. How does a judge reach a verdict when there is no way he
can know, based on the facts, who is guilty and who is innocent? These are questions of
tremendous importance. The answer to these questions has a deep impact in the shaping of
our society. Questions regarding the presumptions of innocence, the standards of proof and
who is to carry the burden of proof will be addressed. Emphasis will be place upon cases
in which the rules we are about to discuss are overturned by some other principle.

The question regarding the sufficiency of evidence needed to convince a decision—maker
in a court case that the charges being pressed are indeed valid is a question relating to
the standard of proof. The standard of proof is a set of guidelines as to how much
evidence the plaintiff or prosecutor must present in order to receive a favorable verdict.
What constitutes the standard of proof is a crucial area in which the two branches of the
legal system differ. In criminal law the standard of proof is "proof beyond a reasonable
doubt," whereas in civil cases the standard is "a preponderance of evidence or in some
rarer cases "Clear and convincing evidence."

The criminal standard of proof is very strict and it is often difficult to get a
conviction under this standard even with solid and convincing evidence. As a result of
this strict standard, the guilty often go unpunished because the prosecution is unable
convince the trier that the evidence meets this standard. At the same time, an immoral
person with a personal vendetta in mind who falsely accuses someone of a crime would have
a very hard time getting a conviction. This strict burden of proof says a great deal about
the importance we place on liberty. Our constitution makes it clear that life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness are the ideals of the highest importance. Sending someone to
prison denies a person his/her liberty and therefore deprives this individual of this
ideal. The standard of proof in a criminal court seems to reflect this by making it very
difficult for this right to be taken away. Usually the higher the stakes (longer prison
term, death penalty) the greater the standard of proof.

The civil standard of proof is more a standard of percentages. If greater than 50% of the
evidence leads to a particular verdict, then in theory it is enough for a conviction. A
conviction in a civil court is based on a less rigorous set of criteria than one in a
criminal court. Often a party is able to show that the requirements for a civil conviction
are met but is unable to convince the trier of fact that the "beyond a reasonable doubt"
standard is met. A famous example of a court case in which the defendant received a
verdict of not guilty in a criminal case but then, subsequently in the civil trial, was
deemed guilty is the renown O.J Simpson trial. Police charged O.J Simpson with the murder
of his wife. Evidence seemed to lead to this same conclusion although there was a small
amount of evidence that did not fit. A second less known standard of proof is the "clear
and convincing" evidence standard. According to this standard a party must show that
something is more likely than not, but not as much as "beyond a reasonable doubt". If it
doesn't sound very concrete it is because it is not. Legal scholars have had a very hard
time interpreting this particular standard. Probably the best way to think of this is that
the standard of proof lies somewhere between a preponderance of evidence and evidence
beyond a reasonable doubt. This said, it is only rarely applied. It is most often employed
in cases where the potential loss is a very important interest like the loss of a child or
a juvenile court conviction. Five states currently require the "clear and convincing"
standard to be met in juvenile court.

Despite the well-established concept of the standard of proof there is still remains
unanswered the question regarding who gets the benefit of the doubt in a trial. Since
virtually every trial has an outcome, whether there is evidence or not, is there an
established doctrine as to who wins in the case that the standard of proof is not met? The
answer is yes. Presumptions are set notions or ideas that in the absence of proof to the
contrary, are deemed to be true. In criminal trials the famous, "innocent until proven
guilty," presumption applies. A similar presumption also applies to civil courts. In other
words, the charges on the defendant are dropped unless the trier is convinced otherwise.
Presumptions are also significant in statutory interpretation and constitutional law. One
of the most famous presumptions of all times as it relates to constitutional law is the
carolene products decision. To quote for this opinion

…the existence of facts supporting the legislative judgement is to be presumed, for
regulatory legislation affecting ordinary commercial transactions is not to be pronounced
unconstitutional unless in the light of the facts made know or generally assumed it is of
such a character as to preclude the assumption that it rests upon some rational basis
within the knowledge and experience of the legislators…


In a footnote to this statement the judge adds, "There may be a narrower scope for
operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to
be… directed at particular religious, national, or racial minorities…prejudice against
discrete or insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends to seriously
curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect
minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry." In
Continues for 4 more pages >>




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