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Concerning the burden, standard of proof in criminal cases

In any criminal case, it is up to the government to provide evidence supporting each and every element of every charge. Most people have heard the term "burden of proof" and know that, in criminal cases, prosecutors must present relevant, reliable evidence proving the truth of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. The latter is referred to as the standard of proof.

The standard of proof is different in criminal cases than it is in civil cases. A recent tax case involving Texas businessman Sam Wyly demonstrates the difference. Wyly was accused of engaging in deceptive and fraudulent actions-particularly using offshore trusts-over a number of years to avoid over $1 billion in tax obligations. 

The court handling Wyly's case recently found that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Mr. Wyly committed tax fraud. That term, clear and convincing evidence, is a civil standard of proof higher than the ordinary preponderance standard. A preponderance standard requires the party seeking to prove the allegations to present evidence that the allegations are more likely than not true. By contrast, clear and convincing evidence requires a significantly greater degree of certainty of the truth of the allegations.

Both of these civil standards are, of course, different than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used in criminal cases. The criminal standard of proof requires that the government show that there are no reasonable doubts regarding the truth of the allegations. What exactly constitutes "reasonable doubt" is a matter of discretion, and is a matter for the judge or the jury to decide. It depends on the strength of the evidence.

For criminal defendants in any case, working with an experienced criminal defense attorney ensures that prosecutors are held to their full burden of proof and that any reasonable doubts concerning the charges are brought to the fore in the case. Regardless of the facts of the case or the nature of the charges, having an experienced advocate ensures a criminal defendant can effectively defend him- or herself.

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