What Is the Presumption of Innocence?

A bedrock principle of the American criminal justice system is that a defendant accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This protection comes from the due process guarantees in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It exists to guard against convictions based on factual error. You may wonder, especially if you are involved in a criminal case, what does it really mean?

The presumption of innocence and the burden of proof work together. Essentially, the presumption transfers to the prosecution the obligation to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that, if you are charged with a crime, you are not required to prove that you did not do it. At least in theory, you can say absolutely nothing at all, and the entire responsibility to prove guilt rests with the defenses.

Thus, in every criminal case, the defense must show that:

  1. The accused actually committed the criminal act
  2. The accused had the necessary intent to commit the crime.

Evidence beyond a reasonable doubt means that the evidence must be so convincing that a reasonable person could not doubt the defendant’s guilt. Another way to put it is that there could be no reasonable alternative to the defendant’s guilt. The prosecution is not required to eliminate every trace of doubt, as long as any remaining doubt would be irrational. A belief that the defendant probably did it is insufficient, in contrast to the burden of proof in civil cases. In civil cases, it is enough to prove that one version of events is more likely to be true than another.

If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer working on your side to protect your rights. Please contact our Boston criminal defense lawyer at Brad Bailey Law today. Call (617) 500-0252 to learn more about your available defenses.


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