What Does Burden of Proof Mean?

By  //  January 28, 2021

In a legal case, proving your case can be somewhat difficult depending on the circumstances surrounding it.

Evidence is not always easy to come by, and understanding what evidence is important and what is not is not something that everyone is going to be able to understand well.

One important thing to understand, however, is how the burden of proof is ultimately handled. This is an important thing to know — not just for the sake of making a stronger legal argument, but also for having stronger arguments in general as well.

Understanding the burden of proof

The burden of proof is a very basic, yet important concept to understand.

Essentially, the concept of the burden of proof posits that if you are making a claim against someone, you are the one responsible for providing the proof for your claim.

For example, if you allege that someone assaulted you, the burden of proof lies on you to demonstrate that the assault occurred, and they were the one that caused it. Whether this is through DNA, through the defendant’s means to commit that assault, intent, etc.

Some evidence is going to be stronger than others; for instance, a text message from the defendant threatening violence is possible evidence, but if there was actual footage of the assault, that is significantly more damning.

Witnesses can also make a big difference, although they are not going to be a smoking gun individually. Most evidence is going to struggle on its own, but the goal of any good proof is to collect a lot of information that presents a common belief.

Footage, witness testimony, DNA, what have you, all of these can be used as part of  your claim if applicable.

On the other hand, if you are the target of an assault claim, your burden of proof does not factor in until the plaintiff and/or prosecutor satisfies their burden of proof already.

It becomes a little more complicated in the event that this proof has been provided, at which point you need to demonstrate that the evidence is flawed, not substantial enough, or contradicts a piece of evidence that you have which you believe carries more merit. If you are able to surmount the evidence they provide, it may bode well for you.

The reason why the evidence that the prosecution and/or plaintiff must provide is their responsibility is simply because the consequences of a false claim causing damage to a defendant are rather significant.

Thus, while it may be unfortunate to have someone who is believed to have committed a crime go free, it is a better result than if a person was put in prison for a crime that they did not commit.

The more severe an accusation, the more likely that any charges associated with the accusation will do harm. For example, there are all too many former death row inmates who were rescued thanks to their conviction being relitigated and found that new evidence exonerated them.

The burden of proof is going to vary based on multiple factors; one factor that makes a big difference is the difference in the burden of proof between a civil trial and a criminal trial.

In a criminal trial, the burden of proof is rather high; essentially, the prosecutor needs to first demonstrate that there is a reasonable possibility that the person being accused committed a crime, which is done during the preliminary hearing process.

After that is done, the evidence will be provided to a jury in most cases, with both sides presenting and at times objecting to certain evidence.

Once the jury gets all the evidence available, they will deliberate, and are asked to find whether there is any reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

A civil trial is a different beast; unlike criminal trials, where the topic of discussion revolves around whether there is a reasonable doubt of guilt or innocence (in that order), the topic focuses on a “preponderance of evidence.”

So rather than the plaintiff having to erase all reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of what they are being accused of, the preponderance of evidence merely asks that the plaintiff demonstrate that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the defendant is guilty.

At times, the preponderance of evidence may be held to a higher standard than normal, which is referred to as “clear and convincing evidence.”

In this case, the plaintiff will be expected to demonstrate a higher likelihood of the claims being true than merely 50 percent.

One thing people misunderstand about the burden of proof is that it has no merits outside of criminal and civil trials. Indeed, a good rule of thumb is that if you cannot or will not back up your arguments with evidence, your argument is likely not very strong.

In the event that a person is representing themselves, there is a good likelihood that they may misunderstand exactly what their burden is with respect to proving their case.

It is also a lot of pressure that a person has to face if they lack a strong, steady hand to help guide them.

A good attorney, such as one employed at Wolfe and Stec, will help ensure that the burden of proof does not have to be carried by you alone. Their expertise will help identify what evidence is strong and what is not.