What Is Reasonable Doubt?


Quick Answer

Reasonable doubt is the legal measurement by which jurors are instructed to judge a defendant in a criminal case not guilty, according to Cornell University Law School. Reasonable doubt occurs when a rational person concludes that the prosecution in a court case has failed to produce sufficient evidence of guilt for every element of the crime of which the person is accused.

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Full Answer

Reasonable doubt is defined under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and is a vital component of due process, Cornell University Law School explains. Juries are required to assume that the accused is innocent until the prosecution provides compelling proof to the contrary. If the evidence is insufficient in quantity or quality to constitute compelling proof to the majority of the jurors, then the prosecution has failed to meet the burden of proof, resulting in acquittal, or dismissing of charges, of the accused.

Although establishment of guilt or non-guilt uses the "beyond a reasonable doubt" measurement in criminal cases, other aspects of criminal trials, including sentencing and the establishment of affirmative defense requirements, may use the "preponderance of evidence" standard, explains Cornell University Law School. This standard is used in civil cases and contrasts reasonable doubt by requiring only that an event likely occurred or a circumstance probably exists. In such cases, the guilt of the accused is legally presumed already to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

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