beyond a reasonable doubt

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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. This means that the prosecution must convince the jury that there is no other reasonable explanation that can come from the evidence presented at trial. In other words, the jury must be virtually certain of the defendant’s guilt in order to render a guilty verdict. This standard of proof is much higher than the civil standard, called “preponderance of the evidence,” which only requires a certainty greater than 50 percent.

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Further Reading:

For an article detailing the origins of this standard, download this University of Chicago Law Review article.

For Supreme Court cases related to this legal standard, see Patterson v. New York and Mullaney v. Wilbur.

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]