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Preponderance of Evidence vs Reasonable Doubt

“Burden of proof” is an important legal concept. In a civil lawsuit the plaintiff, who started the lawsuit, usually bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence every element of the claim against the defendant; if the plaintiff fails to meet that burden with respect to any necessary fact, then the defendant is entitled to dismissal of the lawsuit. In a criminal proceeding the prosecution bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the charge against the defendant; if the prosecution fails to meet that burden, then the defendant is found not guilty. “Preponderance of evidence” and “reasonable doubt” are very different burdens of proof, and it is much easier to prove a fact by a preponderance of evidence than it is to prove a fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

The generally accepted definition of “preponderance of evidence” is that a fact is more likely than not true; if a party convinces the jury (or, if there is no jury, the judge) that a fact is more likely than not true based on all of the evidence, then that party has proven the fact by a preponderance of evidence. A party cannot meet this burden by proving that a fact might be true or could be true, but only by demonstrating that the fact is probably true.

To help them understand what “preponderance of evidence” means, jurors are sometimes told to visualize the scales of justice. If the scales are tipped to any degree, however slight, in favor of the party that bears the burden of proving a fact by a preponderance of evidence, then that party has met the burden of proving that fact. If, on the other hand, the scales are hanging evenly or are tipped in favor of the party that does not have the burden of proof, then the fact in question has not been proven by a preponderance of evidence.

A common definition of “reasonable doubt” is an honest and reasonable uncertainty about the guilt of the defendant based on full and impartial consideration of all of the evidence. A reasonable doubt can arise based on the evidence that the parties present or based on a lack of convincing evidence of guilt. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt need not be strong enough to create absolute certainty about the defendant’s guilt, but only to firmly convince the jurors (or, if there is no jury, the judge) that the prosecution has proven every necessary fact and that the defendant is guilty.

Some legal scholars have tried to use percentages to explain the difference between proof by a preponderance of evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. While use of percentages makes sense to define proof by a preponderance of evidence, it is difficult to use percentages to define proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit has proven that the probability or likelihood that a fact is true exceeds fifty percent (50%), then the plaintiff has proven that fact by a preponderance of evidence. That explanation is entirely consistent with the generally accepted definition of “preponderance of evidence” and with the instructions that judges routinely give to jurors in civil trials, which are described above.

Legal scholars have reached differing conclusions about what percentage properly explains proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Some authorities have suggested that the defendant’s guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt if the prosecution has proven that it is more than ninety percent (90%) likely that the defendant is guilty. Other commentators have used higher percentages, such as ninety-five percent (95%) or even ninety-nine (99%) percent. Judges do not use percentages to explain to jurors what “reasonable doubt” means.

Civil lawsuits are generally about money; if the plaintiff wins, then the defendant will either be required to pay the plaintiff money or expend resources to take other action. Criminal convictions, on the other hand, will result in significant deprivations of liberty (including prison or jail time) and loss of important rights and privileges (such as the right to vote or the privilege of driving). That difference explains why the burden of proof is lower in civil lawsuits than in criminal proceedings.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
2024-03-21
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
2024-03-18
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
2024-03-18
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
2024-03-15
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
2024-03-15
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
2024-03-12
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Loveth Okpedo
Loveth Okpedo
2024-03-12
Very professional, very transparent, over all a great experience
Bee L
Bee L
2024-02-28
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
2024-02-24
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
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