In a criminal trial, a defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is true regardless of what the crime is, who the defendant is or where the trial is taking place. Let’s take a look at how this standard can impact both the defense and the prosecution during a trial.
Juries Must Generally Return Unanimous Verdicts
In almost all criminal cases, a jury must vote unanimously to convict someone. Therefore, if even a single person believes that the defendant is not guilty, it could result in a hung jury. This could create the need for a retrial, and a prosecutor may not always choose to try a case again. This is one reason why both the defense and the prosecution carefully review the jury pool before one is seated. In some cases, simply creating doubt among a juror or two is enough for a defense lawyer to get a victory or a plea bargain in a case.
The Prosecution May Have to Throw Some Charges Out
If there isn’t enough evidence to prove all the charges that a person faces in court, it may be necessary for a prosecutor to drop one or more of them. Sometimes, it means throwing out all the charges until more evidence can be found to support them. Therefore, just having such a high threshold to clear in court makes prosecutors more selective in the cases that they try.
This may be true even if the person who is accused of a crime appears guilty based on the information available. When prosecutors must be selective about the cases that they try may prevent innocent people from going to jail or having a criminal record.
Confusing Witness Testimony Could Shift a Case
There is plenty of research that suggests the human memory isn’t as reliable as we think it is. Therefore, it is possible that a person could tell police one thing at the scene of the crime and tell a different story in court. For instance, a witness could say that he or she saw a black man steal a car and then say it was just a man wearing black. Although other evidence may corroborate the original statement given to police, it could provide the defense an opening to create doubt and perhaps create a hung jury.
A Prosecutor May Be More Willing to Discuss a Plea
Prosecutors have many good reasons why they would want to offer a plea deal in a case. First, it goes on that person’s record as a conviction, and that may be helpful when it comes to staying employed for the long-term. It may also be beneficial to the prosecutor and to the defendant because it resolves the case without wasting time or taxpayer dollars.
However, one of the most common reasons why a prosecutor offers a plea is because the evidence may be too thin to go to trial with. If the accused is facing a long sentence should he or she be convicted, it may be better to plea to 10 years in prison as opposed to taking a life sentence if convicted.
Plea bargains may also be beneficial for those accused of crimes because it may allow them to avoid jail even after pleading guilty. In some cases, they get credit for time served and walk away a free man or woman after sentencing.
Without the high bar that prosecutors must clear to win their cases, there may be fewer plea bargains. With fewer plea bargains, the jails and court dockets may be even more crowded, which does not go over well with many judges.
The burden of proof in a criminal case is high for a reason. If an individual is convicted, he or she could face jail time, probation or other penalties that may appear on background checks for years to come. In addition to legal consequences, a conviction could have personal and professional consequences for a person. Therefore, it is important that everyone has due process and is presumed innocent until proven guilty to preserve the integrity of the justice system.