What is the Burden of Proof?

The criminal justice system believes that a person is “innocent until proven guilty.” In almost every legal proceeding, the evidence is the key factor determining the truth. For that reason, the plaintiff or district attorney is obligated to provide evidence proving a fact in dispute. One cannot simply accuse another person of committing wrongful actions, without delivering sufficient proof.

In civil cases, each and every situation is treated uniquely. There are different standards of the burden of proof depending on the circumstances, but in most instances, it is a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. A “preponderance of the evidence” simply means more likely than not. However, it is always the plaintiff’s obligation to prove their case based on sufficient evidence that can be presented in court. Thus, the stronger the evidence, the higher the chances of winning the case.

How is The Validity of Evidence Determined?

In civil cases, the burden of proof is known as the "preponderance of the credible evidence," which focuses on the importance of the evidence, rather than its quantity. Seeing that the plaintiff is the party bringing a lawsuit to court, he or she is required to provide a valid reason and relevant evidence. After that, the defendant files a responsive pleading, where he or she denies some or all allegations.

In each case, the "trier of fact," who is the judge or jury, determine which side presented the strongest, most convincing evidence. According to the rules of civil procedure, at least 51% of the provided evidence must favor the plaintiff for the defendant to be found liable.  

If the plaintiff fails to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, the defendant prevails. If the trier of fact believes the plaintiff and the defendant equally, it means that the plaintiff has failed to satisfy his burden of proof and their claim must fail.

Is The Evidence “Clear And Convincing?”

The “clear and convincing evidence” standard is a little more complex than “preponderance of the evidence.” It can be described as a medium level of burden of proof; it is a higher-level standard than the preponderance of the credible evidence, but a lower level than proving evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. It is often, but not always, used in civil cases where more than just money or property is at stake. For instance, when important family decisions such as withdrawing life support must be made, or gross negligence must be decided.

“Clear and convincing” means that there is a high likelihood of the evidence being true than untrue. This standard is used in both criminal and civil cases.

Is The “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” Standard Used In Civil Cases?

No. This is the highest level standard and it is only employed in criminal trials. Unlike criminal offenses, civil ones are not considered a crime against the state, or society as a whole. Civil offenses are also punished less severely and are generally considered less serious, or blameworthy. For that reason, there is no need to require such complex evidence standards as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” one.

To summarize, there are three different types of burden of proof. They also vary in the level of complexity and seriousness and are applied to different cases. The "preponderance of the credible evidence" standard is considered to be the lowest level burden of proof and is used in civil cases. The “clear and convincing evidence” standard is a medium level of burden of proof and can be used in both civil and criminal trials. The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is employed only during criminal trials, and it is considered to be the highest level burden of proof.


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