What is Reasonable Doubt?

The moving party almost always has the burden of proof in court. In criminal court, the moving party is the prosecutor, and the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unlike some other jurisdictions, the State of Texas does not legally define the phrase “reasonable doubt.” It is even illegal for a Tarrant County judge to instruct the jury in this area. Each jury must determine for itself just what this phrase means.

The Burdens of Proof in Texas

Without a working definition, it may be best to look at what reasonable doubt is not as opposed to what it is.

In most civil cases, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Imagine that there are two equally-full glasses of water side by side. If a person adds one drop of water to the glass on the left, it is fuller than the glass on the right. That is the picture of preponderance of the evidence.

Other civil cases, most notably child custody cases, involve clear and convincing evidence. In Texas, this phrase means “the measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established.” That may sound a lot like reasonable doubt. But, reasonable doubt is a much, much higher standard. If the juror has a “firm belief” that the defendant is guilty, that’s not enough.

Evidence in Tarrant County Criminal Cases

Most cases involve both testimonial and physical evidence, and a DWI is a good example.

Arresting officers always testify in DWI cases. They may testify as to what they saw and, in some cases, testify about what the defendant said or did.

Police officers may use their written reports to refresh their memories. Legally, there is a fine line between refreshing recollection and reading the police report into evidence. The first is legal; the second is against the rules of evidence, at least in most cases.

Many cases also involve physical evidence. In a DWI, that could be video field sobriety test evidence or chemical samples. FSTs are circumstantial evidence because they are subject to interpretation. Chemical samples are direct evidence. Unless the sample is invalid for some reason, it is what it is.

Even with both kinds of evidence, the burden of proof is so high that it often is not enough. So, a lack of evidence is often the best possible defense.

Prosecutors face uphill battles to win convictions. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. We are available for consultations 24/7/365.