BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT
When charged with a criminal offence, the police and the prosecution believe you are guilty of it. However, it is not up to the police or the prosecution to decide if someone is guilty of a criminal offence. There are 3 key pillars of the criminal justice system in Queensland that can give innocent people hope, and these are:
- The Presumption of Innocence;
- The Burden of Proof; and
- Beyond Reasonable Doubt.
(1) WHAT IS THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE?
The presumption of innocence means the prosecution has the burden of proving the charge against an accused. It means an accused is presumed innocent and no guilt can be presumed, until the prosecution has proved the charge “beyond reasonable doubt”. Until the prosecution evidence satisfies a Magistrate, Judge or Jury of an accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence remains. The presumption guarantees an accused a fair trial. If there is any reasonable doubt in the mind of the Magistrate, Judge or Jury, an accused must be acquitted of the offence they are charged with.
(2) WHAT IS THE BURDEN OF PROOF?
The burden of proving an accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt lies with the prosecution. This means the prosecution has the onus of proving an accused is guilty of a criminal offence beyond reasonable doubt. An accused does not need to prove anything- they do not need to prove they are innocent.
(3)WHAT IS BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT?
The prosecution must prove a defendant is guilty of a criminal offence “beyond reasonable doubt”. Proof beyond reasonable doubt is the highest legal standard of proof. It is unlike the civil standard of proof, which is on the balance of probabilities (i.e. is it more likely than not?). There is an excellent reason the standard of proof in a criminal trial is so high, because innocent people are accused of criminal offences all the time. The standard of proof upholds the presumption of innocence of an accused.
There is no legal definition of what “beyond reasonable doubt” means. The Courts leave it to the jury to use their own understanding of what reasonable doubt is. Juries are told at the end of a trial if they have a reasonable doubt about a defendant’s guilt, then their duty is to acquit, and find the defendant not guilty. They are also told if have no reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt, then their duty is to convict and find the defendant guilty.
While there is no legal definition of “beyond reasonable doubt”, we know what it is not. For example, the following would not be “beyond reasonable doubt”:
- I think he/she did it.
- Maybe he/she did it.
- It is possible he/she did it.
- I’m almost sure he/she did it.
- It is very likely he/she did it.
If you are charged with a criminal offence, the above 3 key pillars of our criminal justice system in Queensland can give you hope. Just because the police or the prosecution say you did something, their opinion doesn’t count. The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you committed the offence. As above, this is a very high standard they must meet.