The court system in the United States is divided into two categories, the criminal system and the civil system. The government brings cases against defendants in the criminal system.
In the civil system, a citizen can bring a lawsuit against another individual or entity. The laws that govern these systems, the burdens of proof, and the available punishments differ between the two systems.
For example, in criminal cases, a defendant faces incarceration. In contrast, in civil cases, a defendant will not face incarceration.
In some cases, civil lawsuits may follow criminal cases. For example, wrongful death claims or police misconduct claims.
How Does Each System Work?
The criminal system focuses on cases which are brought into state and federal criminal courts by law enforcement. The government brings a case against the accused individual, or the defendant.
The burden of proof is on the government to show the jury their case as well as the evidence which supports it. The penalties which are available in criminal cases vary widely and may include anything from criminal fines to the death penalty.
In the civil court system, organizations and individuals can bring other organizations and individuals to court. Typically, these cases involve disputes between the parties.
The penalties in civil cases typically involve monetary or property compensation. The right to a jury trial is not guaranteed in civil cases which seek equitable remedies.
However, the right to a trial by jury is guaranteed in criminal cases by the Sixth Amendment.
What Punishments are Available in Each System?
If an individual is convicted in criminal court, they may be ordered to pay criminal fines, spend time in jail or prison, or be placed on probation. In civil courts, the penalties for liability are typically monetary damages which are awarded to the plaintiff.
What is Preponderance of the Evidence vs. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
In nearly every legal proceeding, there are two sets of important standards which must be met prior to a court or jury determining who prevails in a case. These rules are called evidentiary standards and burden of proof.
These rules and standards determine which party is responsible for providing evidence to either prove or disprove a particular claim and the amount of evidence which is necessary to accomplish this. Civil and criminal cases do vary in many aspects, however, evidence is typically a key factor in deciding who prevails in a case.
In both civil law cases and criminal law cases, the parties are required to convince a trier of fact, or a judge or jury, of their argument. In civil cases, such as personal injury cases, the plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence.
In criminal cases, prosecutors are required to prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is typically not totally clear to the average citizen what these standards mean and how they truly differ from one another.
What is the Preponderance of the Evidence Standard?
As previously noted, the preponderance of the evidence standard is the evidentiary standard which is required in civil law cases. The preponderance standard is lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.
The preponderance of the evidence standard means that the burden of proof is met when there is a greater than 50% change that, based upon all of the evidence shown, that the plaintiff’s claims are true and that the defendant did, in fact, engage in the conduct which caused injury or damage to the plaintiff.
Numerous legal scholars explain that the preponderance of the evidence standard requires at least 51% of the evidence presented to prove the plaintiff’s argument. An additional way to consider the standard is to ask whether the plaintiff’s argument or position is more likely to be true than is it to not be true.
A plaintiff can meet this burden of proof by presenting physical and testimonial evidence in support of their case and the idea that it is more likely to be true than it is not true that the defendant was the party who caused the harm. The defendant, on the other hand, is not required to present any evidence to prove or defend their position if the plaintiff fails to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence.
If a plaintiff does not meet this burden of proof, the defendant will prevail.
What is the Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Standard?
The burden of proof always rests with the prosecution in criminal cases. This is because a defendant is always presumed innocent until proven guilty.
If the prosecution fails to prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is not required to prove any aspect of their case. The standard of beyond a reasonable doubt is much higher than the preponderance of the evidence standard.
Generally, legal scholars will describe the beyond a reasonable doubt standard as being met when a prosecutor demonstrates that there is no plausible reason to believe anything other than what they present. If, however, there is any doubt after careful consideration of all of the evidence which is presented, the standard has not been met.
This does not mean, however, that this standard is an absolute standard where the prosecution must prove their case beyond any doubt whatsoever. The reasonable doubt standard provides that the prosecution is required to prove the defendant’s guilt to the extent that no reasonable individual could reasonably doubt the defendant’s guilt.
Although the courts do not attach or assign a number to the beyond a reasonable doubt standard, many legal scholars interpret it to mean 90%, 95%, or 99% sure. If, after the prosecution has presented all of their evidence to a judge or jury and they have no doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, or if they are only left with unreasonable doubts, then the prosecution has meet their burden, proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defendant should be adjudicated guilty.
On the other hand, if a reasonable doubt does exist as to whether or not the defendant committed the crime, then the defendant should be adjudicated innocent. A common example which shows the difference between civil and criminal standards is the O.J. Simpson case.
In the criminal trial, the prosecution presented enough evidence to meet their standard but the defense presented enough evidence to raise reasonable doubts with the jurors. Due to this fact, O.J. Simpson was acquitted.
When the case was brought in civil court, however, in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit, the preponderance of the evidence standard was met, and O.J. Simpson was found liable for the murders and ordered to pay damages. In this case, it was easier to show that O.J. was more likely than not responsible for the murders even thought it could not be shown beyond a reasonable doubt.
Do I Need Assistance from an Attorney?
It is crucial to have the assistance of an attorney, no matter whether you are involved in a criminal case or a civil case. Your attorney will be best equipped to present evidence and meet the required burden of proof.
Your attorney will represent you and protect your rights and interests as well as present available defenses. If you are involved in a civil law case, then a qualified civil attorney will provide you with legal guidance. If you are involved in a criminal law case, a criminal defense lawyer will provide you with legal advice and defend you in court.
Preponderance of the evidence is required in a civil case and is contrasted with "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the more severe test of evidence required to convict in a criminal trial. No matter what the definition stated in various legal opinions, the meaning is somewhat subjective.Is a preponderance of evidence enough to convict? ›
In the state of California, most personal injury cases require a preponderance of evidence to prove guilt or liability. For the plaintiff to meet this burden, they must prove it is more likely than not that certain allegations are true.Is beyond a reasonable doubt higher or lower than preponderance of evidence? ›
The standard of beyond a reasonable doubt is much higher than the preponderance of the evidence standard. Generally, legal scholars will describe the beyond a reasonable doubt standard as being met when a prosecutor demonstrates that there is no plausible reason to believe anything other than what they present.What are the two things a plaintiff has to prove by the preponderance of the evidence in an infringement lawsuit? ›
The plaintiff in a copyright infringement lawsuit has the burden of proving two elements: that they own a copyright, and that the defendant infringed it.How do you determine preponderance of evidence? ›
To prove an element by a preponderance of the evidence simply means to prove that something is more likely than not. In other words, in light of the evidence and the law, do you believe that each element of his/her [claim/counterclaim] is more likely true than not?Is beyond a reasonable doubt a burden of proof? ›
Beyond a reasonable doubt is the legal burden of proof required to affirm a conviction in a criminal case. In a criminal case, the prosecution bears the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.What is considered insufficient evidence? ›
Insufficient evidence is the evidence which fails to meet the burden of proof and is inadequate to prove a fact.What must a party prove to satisfy the standard of preponderance of the evidence? ›
Preponderance of the evidence is one type of evidentiary standard used in a burden of proof analysis. Under the preponderance standard, the burden of proof is met when the party with the burden convinces the fact finder that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true.How much evidence is enough evidence? ›
The legal process requires that to convict a person of a crime, the prosecution must prove every element of the case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The beyond a reasonable doubt standard is the highest level of evidence the courts in the United States require.What percentage is beyond a reasonable doubt? ›
Whereas, in a civil trial, a party may prevail with as little as 51 percent probability (a preponderance), those legal authorities who venture to assign a numerical value to “beyond a reasonable doubt” place it in the certainty range of 98 or 99 percent.
There are three burdens of proof that exist for most cases: proof beyond a reasonable doubt, clear and convincing evidence, and preponderance of the evidence.Which type of case is won by a preponderance of evidence? ›
1. What is the preponderance of the evidence standard? The “preponderance of the evidence standard” is the standard of proof in many civil cases/civil trials where the plaintiff has to show that it is more likely than not that a fact is true.What are the four elements of a negligence action that must be proven by a preponderance of evidence? ›
In order to establish negligence, you must be able to prove four “elements”: a duty, a breach of that duty, causation and damages.What are the three ingredients that a plaintiff must prove on the balance of probabilities to succeed in an action for negligence? ›
- Duty of care.
- Breach of duty.
To prove prima facie defamation, a plaintiff must show four things: 1) a false statement purporting to be fact; 2) publication or communication of that statement to a third person; 3) fault amounting to at least negligence; and 4) damages, or some harm caused to the reputation of the person or entity who is the subject ...How hard is it to prove preponderance of the evidence? ›
Clear and Convincing Evidence Standard
In comparison, preponderance of evidence requires a mere 51% or greater probability and beyond a reasonable doubt requires closer to 100%. Applications of the clear and convincing standard are seen typically in civil cases, including: Child custody. Probate of wills.
A prudent man faced with conflicting probabilities concerning a fact-situation will act on the supposition that the actual fact exists, if no weighing the varied probabilities he finds that the preponderance is in favor of the existence of the actual fact.Which type of law requires issues to be proven only by a preponderance of evidence? ›
In civil cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proving their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means the plaintiff merely needs to show that the fact in dispute is more likely than not.Is beyond reasonable doubt 100%? ›
1. What is proof beyond a reasonable doubt? The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is the legal standard used in criminal cases. This is to say that a prosecutor must prove all of the elements of a crime, beyond a reasonable doubt, in order to obtain a guilty verdict.How do you prove proof beyond reasonable doubt? ›
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt must, therefore, be proof of such a convincing character that a reasonable person would not hesitate to rely and act upon it in the most important of his own affairs. The jury will remember that a defendant is never to be convicted on mere suspicion and conjecture.”
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of proof that is applied in criminal cases. The burden of proving the guilt of the accused in this manner rests on the state, and does not shift to the accused. This is in contrast to the evidential burden which may shift to the accused to rebut a case against him or her.What are the three categories of incompetent evidence? ›
Incompetent: the witness is not qualified to answer the question. Inflammatory: the question is intended to cause prejudice. Irrelevant or immaterial: the question is not about the issues in the trial.What makes evidence inconclusive? ›
Inconclusive: Evidence may be inconclusive when not enough studies have been done or when the results of different studies don't agree. Or it may be that the studies were not done well enough to provide good evidence. We can't really trust this type of evidence. But sometimes it's the only evidence available.What is evidence that Cannot be used in court? ›
Inadmissible evidence is evidence that lawyers can't present to a jury. Forms of evidence judges consider inadmissible include hearsay, prejudicial, improperly obtained or irrelevant items. For example, investigators use polygraph tests to determine whether a person is lying about the events of a case.What is the most typical burden of proof a plaintiff must meet in order to prevail in a civil suit? ›
In a civil case, the plaintiff must convince the jury by a “preponderance of the evidence” (i.e., that it is more likely than not) that the defendant is responsible for the harm the plaintiff has suffered.What are exceptions to the general rule of burden of proof? ›
When a person is accused of any offence, the burden of proving the existence of circumstances bringing the case within any of the General Exceptions in the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), or within any special exception or proviso contained in any other part of the same Code, or in any law defining the offence, is upon ...Who has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence or by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant was insane at the time of a crime? ›
A defendant may constitutionally be required to prove his/her insanity by a standard as high as beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 799. It therefore follows that placing the burden on the defendant to prove the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence is constitutional.What is the strongest type of evidence? ›
The most powerful type of evidence, direct evidence requires no inference and directly proves the fact you are investigating. The evidence alone is the proof, if you believe the accounts.
The systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and evidence-based practice guidelines are considered to be the strongest level of evidence on which to guide practice decisions.What is the most reliable level of evidence? ›
Well done systematic reviews, with or without an included meta-analysis, are generally considered to provide the best evidence for all question types as they are based on the findings of multiple studies that were identified in comprehensive, systematic literature searches.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that there has to be no doubt at all. Additionally, a person may have “unreasonable doubt” and find a person guilty. If a juror finds that there is no reasonable doubt that is possible, he or she must find the defendant guilty.Who proves beyond a reasonable doubt? ›
The burden of proving the guilt of the defendant lies on the prosecution, who must prove the particulars of the offence beyond reasonable doubt; the jury or magistrates should only convict if they are sure of the defendant's guilt.What is the hardest crime to prove? ›
Actually, the toughest case to prosecute is treason. Treason is the only crime set forth in the U.S. Constitution. In addition to its definition, the standard of proof required to sustain a conviction is set forth: either a confession in open court or the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act.What determines the burden of proof? ›
In a civil lawsuit, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff or the person filing the suit. The plaintiff should prove that the allegations are true and that the defendant, or the other party, caused damages. When it comes to establishing a civil case, the plaintiff must usually do so by a preponderance of evidence.What is another word for beyond reasonable doubt? ›
The prosecution must convince the court that based on the evidence, there is no other reasonable explanation other than that the accused is guilty.Is prima facie a beyond reasonable doubt? ›
Under s. 180, a prima facie case is one which is established by sufficient beyond reasonable doubt evidence and can be overthrown only by rebutting evidence adduced by the other side.What is a preponderance of a doubt? ›
It means “more likely than not.” Put another way, if it is 51% likely that the defendant committed the alleged act, he is liable. Concerning criminal proceedings, this burden is sometimes used during hearings, such as a California probation violation hearing.