Unless you’re a lawyer yourself, you might not realize that there are different burdens of proof for different kinds of cases. You might not even be sure what a burden of proof is. While it’s not required (when you work with an attorney, it’s their job to worry about burdens of proof), it can give you a better idea of how the legal system works and what’s required from your case.
What is a Burden of Proof?
A “burden of proof” is the duty of a party to prove something is true. There are different standards for different types of cases or claims. In civil law, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. It’s their job to show that harm has occurred and the defendant has caused the harm. In criminal cases, that burden falls on the prosecutors.
Burdens of proof can shift when a defendant uses an affirmative defense. Essentially, they’re arguing that they did do what they were accused of, but they were justified in doing so. Self-defense in criminal cases is a common affirmative defense.
What are the Different Burdens of Proof?
- Beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest burden of proof there is. It’s used in criminal cases, where a defendant’s freedom (or life) is at stake. Beyond a reasonable doubt doesn’t mean beyond any doubt, however. The prosecution has to convince the jury that the defendant committed the crime, and there’s no other logical or reasonable explanation to indicate otherwise. The emphasis is on “logical” and “reasonable”—you can’t invent fantastical reasons (like UFOs or ghosts) to explain a crime away.
- Clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is used in certain civil cases. This puts the burden on a party to prove that a fact is substantially likely to be true. It’s a higher standard than preponderance of the evidence, but lower than beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Preponderance of evidence. Preponderance of the evidence is the lowest standard of proof. It’s used in the majority of civil cases. This burden of proof requires a party to show that a fact is more likely than not to be true. As you can see, it’s a much easier standard to meet than beyond a reasonable doubt.
When you file a lawsuit in civil court, you’ll likely be held to the preponderance of evidence standard. Your lawyer will help you understand what’s required and how to best showcase your evidence.
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