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What Does the Term ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’ Actually Mean?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

If you’ve ever seen a movie or television show that featured a courtroom scene, you’ve likely heard the term, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” So what does this term, used in criminal trials, actually mean?

The term, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” is used as a standard of proof necessary for prosecutors to meet for a defendant to be found guilty of a crime. Since the law views all defendants as innocent until proven guilty, the prosecution must demonstrate through the facts and evidence of the case that he or she was the individual who committed the crime. Therefore it stands that if after the prosecution presents its evidence the judge or jury has reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant did indeed commit the crime, the accused cannot be found guilty.

If not for this term, individuals could be found guilty of crimes even if there were other reasonable possibilities as to how the crime occurred. But this is not to say that judges or juries can’t have any doubts; just that these doubts may not be reasonable. So what exactly makes doubt reasonable?

Defining and Differentiating Reasonable Doubt

Under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, each individual must be given his or her fair trial. The reason for this is because it is viewed as far worse to falsely convict an innocent person than to let ten guilty people walk free. That’s why the reasonable doubt standard is the highest standard of proof that is used in criminal trials. 

In the past, Texas used to provide a definition of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to jurors but it does not do so anymore. Although jurors are given some guidance as to the standard of proof, jury instructions do not specifically define proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A smart criminal defense attorney will often compare proof beyond a reasonable doubt to other standards of proof, and point out that it is even more demanding than the proof needed to win a civil suit (preponderance), arrest someone (probable cause) or take away someone’s children (clear and convincing evidence).

The Attorneys at Ceja Law Firm Help Those in Houston Who Have Been Accused of Committing a Crime

If you have been convicted of a crime in Texas, it can require an aggressive defense lawyer to successfully defend your rights and ensure that you have the best chances of having your charges dismissed or even dropped entirely. This is why it’s so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced Texas criminal defense attorney

At Ceja Law Firm PLLC, we understand the repercussions that a criminal conviction can have on your life. That’s why we will work to help you obtain the best possible outcome. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.