Preponderance of the Evidence vs. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

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Preponderance of the Evidence vs. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In the United States legal system, there are two standards of proof that must be met before the judge decides who wins a case. Civil courts use a lower standard of “preponderance of evidence”, while criminal courts use a higher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Preponderance of the Evidence

Civil courts require a plaintiff to prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence. This means the person who is suing (i.e. Plaintiff) must prove that there is a greater than 50% chance, based on all the reasonable evidence, that the defendant did the wrong that caused the damage. The plaintiff can use testimonial and physical evidence to prove her case.

The defendant does not have to do anything to defend their case if the plaintiff fails to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. And as a result, the defendant wins.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

However, in criminal courts, there is a higher level of proof. The prosecutor must prove that the accused did the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This means there is a great likelihood that the accused committed the crime.

Although most courts refuse to attach any numbers to the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt,” some people believe it means 90%, 95%, or even 99% confidence that the accused did the crime.  

Seeking Legal Help

If you are involved in a legal action, you should consult with an experienced attorney to ensure that your case is effectively represented in court.

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Last Modified: 12-14-2013 03:04 PM PST

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