What Does “Burden of Proof” Refer to?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Frank Walker with Frank Walker Law.
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Frank Walker, a Criminal Law attorney based in Pennsylvania.
“Burden of proof” is a term used to refer to the legal duty the prosecution in a criminal defense trial or plaintiff in a civil trial has to the defendant being charged. The burden of proof varies depending on the type of trial; for example, in a criminal trial, the prosecution must typically prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in civil cases, the plaintiff must prove that their evidence meets the threshold for the burden of proof decided by a judge and jury. Typically the burden of proof required to be met in a civil trial is less stringent, while the burden of proof in criminal cases is much higher. Considering the vastly different penalties and compensation available in criminal cases versus civil ones, having a different burden of proof for different circumstances makes sense.
In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is more likely than not liable for their damages.
The burden of proof or “threshold” the plaintiff must meet typically requires the injured party’s representation to present evidence documenting not only the event in question (i.e. car accident, premises liability accident, product injury, etc.), but also evidence that proves the plaintiff’s damages. If the plaintiff is seeking compensation for medical bills and lost wages, they will be required to present evidence proving the cost of their treatment as well as what their typical wages were before and after the event. As long as the plaintiff can prove that the defendant was more likely than not responsible for their suffering, they have likely met their burden of proof.
In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Criminal trials differ from civil ones in that the case is not brought against a defendant by the injured party; instead, prosecution representing the state brings the case against the accused. While civil lawsuits typically focus on helping the victim make a recovery, criminal trials focus more so on what sort of penalty should be allotted to someone guilty of a crime.
However, in a criminal trial, the burden of proof the prosecution must meet is much higher. The prosecuting attorney must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant in question is guilty of the charges they are accused of. To meet this burden of proof, the prosecution will have to present a variety of court-approved evidence that the jury agrees makes it highly improbable that the accused is innocent.
Civil and criminal trials may proceed at the same time, despite requiring different burdens of proof.
There is a common misconception that a civil lawsuit cannot be filed for a victim’s damages until the criminal trial has concluded; this is not the case. In fact, considering how long it often takes for either of these trials to wrap up and the various statutes of limitation or time limits that apply, it’s a good idea to begin filing a civil lawsuit as soon as possible if you were injured by the criminal conduct of another party.
While criminal trials focus on penalizing the guilty, civil trials focus on seeking support and recovery for the victim of the crime. Both are an important and necessary part of the United States justice system, as are the burdens of proof that strive to protect the rights of both plaintiffs and defendants.
To learn more about burdens of proof or for help filing a claim after suffering from the criminal behavior of another party, reach out to an experienced attorney in your area.