Burdens of Proof

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In almost all legal settings there is something called burden of proof.  What exactly does burden of proof mean?

Cases have regularly defined burden of proof as being the necessity or duty of affirmatively proving a fact or facts in dispute on an issue raised between the parties in a cause.

In the law how you meet that burden of proof is the introduction of evidence to either a judge or a jury that then makes the decision of whether you have met the burden.  There are several different burdens of proof that may apply to different types of legal actions.  In this blog we will take a look at the different types of burdens of proof


Probable Cause

One of the lowest burdens of proof is probable cause.  Probable cause is the burden of proof that is most commonly used to charge someone with a crime.  When a new criminal charge is brought against someone the standard or burden the court uses to determine if there’s grounds for the charges is probable cause.  The Indiana Supreme Court had defined probable cause by saying it “exists when, at the time of the arrest, the arresting officer has knowledge of facts and circumstances that would warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that the suspect had committed a criminal act.”  Henderson vs. State, 769 N.E.2d 17 Ind. 2002.  In practice this standard has a relatively low bar to meet and is routinely found by courts in criminal cases.


Preponderance of the Evidence

The most prevalent standard of evidence in civil cases is preponderance of the evidence.  This is the more likely than not standard.  The Courts, via a jury instruction, have described this standard by saying, “preponderance of the evidence means the greater weight of the evidence, that is, such evidence as when weighed with that opposed to it has more convincing force in your minds.”  Section 312 Indiana Jury Instructions.  Again, what evidence convinces the jury something is more likely.


Clear and Convincing

This burden is the one that falls somewhere between preponderance and beyond a reasonable doubt.  This standard tends to be applied in civil matters of high importance dealing with things like someone’s competency or terminating someone’s parental rights.  Essentially this standard was developed to have a middle ground between more likely than not but less than beyond a reasonable doubt.  This standard hasn’t been particularly well defined by the courts.  However, one court said the following: “Clear and convincing standard is employed in cases where the wisdom of experience has demonstrated the need for greater certainty, and where this high standard is required to sustain claims which have serious social consequences or harsh or far reaching effects on individuals.”  Civil Commitment…27 N.E.3d 271.  The other very common description of this standard is to say it requires that an existence of a fact must be highly probable.


Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

This is the standard applied in all criminal matters and all juvenile accusations of delinquency.  Beyond a reasonable doubt recognizes that the State of Indiana should have to meet the highest of all burdens before someone can be found guilty of a crime.  The courts have gone to great length to define beyond a reasonable doubt.  IN their jury instruction the courts state:

The burden is upon the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty of the crime(s) charged. It is a strict and heavy burden. The evidence must overcome any reasonable doubt concerning the Defendant’s guilt. But it does not mean that a Defendant’s guilt must be proved beyond all possible doubt. A reasonable doubt is a fair, actual and logical doubt based upon reason and common sense. A reasonable doubt may arise either from the evidence or from a lack of evidence. Reasonable doubt exists when you are not firmly convinced of the Defendant’s guilt, after you have weighed and considered all the evidence. A Defendant must not be convicted on suspicion or speculation. It is not enough for the State to show that the Defendant is probably guilty. On the other hand, there are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty. The State does not have to overcome every possible doubt. The State must prove each element of the crime(s) by evidence that firmly convinces each of you and leaves no reasonable doubt. The proof must be so convincing that you can rely and act upon it in this matter of the highest importance. If you find that there is a reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty of the crime(s), you must give the Defendant the benefit of that doubt and find the Defendant not guilty of the crime under consideration.  Indiana Pattern Instructions 1.1500


As you can see navigating and understanding the burdens of proof that may apply in your legal case can be quite complex.  Please contact the attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC at 317-870-0019 any time or day to see how we can help you with your legal situation.