What is the Burden of Proof in a Legal Case?
Burden of truth is a legal party’s obligation to demonstrate the truth of their argument. A legal party, in these terms, usually refers to the plaintiff in a civil trial–perhaps someone who has filed a personal injury lawsuit–or the prosecutor in a criminal trial–someone who is trying to have the defendant convicted of a crime.
When a party proposes an accusation or argument against another party, they have to meet certain standards in order to have the court accept their proposition as the truth.
Many people in lay speech use the term “burden of proof” to mean one’s responsibility to prove themselves when they make an argument. If you’re going to claim that your coworker stole your work, you have the burden of proof to find evidence that this theft actually happened.
In a sense, the above example is appropriate. However, in the legal system, the burden of truth is actually more complex. It’s a set of exact standards that a legal party must meet in order to have a fact legally established–to have the jury or judge overseeing a trial agree with you.
If you meet these standards, then your argument is successful and the court sides with your party. If you don’t meet these standards, your case won’t be successful.
As you can see, the burden of proof isn’t scientific.
Rather, it’s based on how successful your case is when presented before a court. Thankfully, a good attorney experienced in trial law, like a personal injury lawyer, will understand that they need to meet the burden of truth when they represent you in court. Qualified attorneys also know that there is more intricacy to the burden of truth standards than these basics.
Burden of Truth: in Two Parts
Burden of truth actually consists of two different elements. In order for a legal case to be successful, a party (the defense or plaintiff) must provide both elements in court. The two concepts that create the burden of truth are: the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. These ideas are distinct but related, and a good lawyer will build their case to prove both.
Burden of Production
Every case needs sufficient evidence, and this is what the burden of production requires. A party is obligated to show relevant and convincing evidence that their statement or proposition is true. When someone files a personal injury lawsuit, for instance, they need to show proof of the injury, like medical records. Records of a doctor evaluating the injured party, testing them to determine the extent of their injuries, and then officially diagnosing their injuries are excellent pieces of evidence to provide in a personal injury trial.
In some civil cases, exact types of credible evidence are necessary. For example, you may not be likely to have a judge or jury in court side with your personal injury case if you don’t provide enough evidence of harm done to you. Criminal cases, meanwhile, are more difficult to prosecute without a witness statement. A substantial part of the prosecution’s burden of production is to find witnesses to the crime and have them make a testimony under oath in court.
Not all types of evidence are admissible in court, but this is something a lawyer will know and work into their case. For example, irrelevant and misleading evidence won’t be allowed. Also, evidence that was obtained illegally–stolen from the defendant without their knowledge, for example–isn’t admissible in court.
A skilled attorney should accumulate the necessary evidence to satisfy the burden of production for your case. In many cases, they’ll work with you to obtain all the necessary documents, statements from relevant witnesses, etc.
Burden of Persuasion
The burden of persuasion, meanwhile, is the assertion that a certain fact or belief is believable. Is an argument deemed more likely true than not? If so, the party has met the burden of persuasion.
This second facet of the burden of truth depends on the first, the burden of production. Once a legal team presents evidence, they’ll need to persuade the court that all evidence and arguments in a trial add up to your argument.
This can be convoluted if you aren’t an attorney, but think of it this way: if you’ve been injured due to someone else’s fault, your attorney will present evidence. Then, they will argue that all of this evidence points to a certain truth: another party’s fault or negligence caused your injury.
As Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute states, a party who makes an argument or accusation must persuade the court “to a requisite degree of belief…that a particular proposition of fact is true.” The degree of belief described here is essentially a rough measurement of how persuasive a legal party’s proposition is. In a sense, a judge or jury will ask themselves, “From 1 to 100, how highly would I rate my belief in an argument? What percentage ‘grade’ would I give it?”
The burden of persuasion means a legal party must meet a certain “grade” for the court to take their side. These grades vary based on whether this is a criminal or civil trial.
Preponderance of the Evidence
This is the degree of belief that you must meet in a civil trial. According to this standard, the burden of proof has been met when a legal party demonstrates there is at least a 50% chance their claim is true. Is a person directly responsible for your personal injury? If your lawyer can make the court feel that this is more than likely true–over 50%–then your side has met the burden of proof.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt
In a criminal trial, attorneys for the prosecution–the ones trying to reach a guilty verdict–need to achieve a burden of truth beyond all reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard in the legal system because a person will face severe penalties, like life imprisonment. In order to affirm a conviction, the prosecution must overwhelmingly convince the court that their side is correct.
In fact, the judge or jury must feel that there is no other possible explanation for the crime than what the prosecution has argued. If there is any “reasonable doubt” that the prosecution’s argument is true, the defendant should not be convicted.
Hire Experienced Legal Counsel
As you can see, succeeding in a legal case is highly complex and demanding. Thankfully, you can trust in the skills of an experienced Jacksonville attorney to present your case and satisfy the burden of truth.
If you are facing a personal injury case and need legal advice or help with the burden of proof, it’s best to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney. Call the team at Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A. for a consultation to discuss your legal needs.
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