Burden of Proof

In any legal proceeding, criminal or outcome, the intended outcome depends on a concept called the burden of proof. If the burden of proof cannot be met, intended outcomes are hard to achieve. However, the failure to meet this requirement can be used as grounds for appeal in the future.

What is Burden of Proof?

As the name implies, the burden of proof is nothing but a party’s responsibility or “burden” to prove a charge or allegation. In a legal proceeding, the plaintiff or court must prove that the defendant is guilty of committing the alleged crime.

There are two components to "burden of proof": the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. The former refers to the obligation of presenting evidence to the court, the jury, and the judge while the latter refers to the obligation of convincing the same entities of the defendant’s guilt/innocence beyond any reasonable doubt.

This is done by evaluating the quality and the quantity of evidence. So, essentially, when the party has enough evidence to convince the court that a defendant is guilty, it can be said that the burden of proof has been met.

In actual legal proceedings, especially criminal proceedings, the onus of meeting the burden of proof typically falls on the prosecutor or plaintiff. The defendant, on the other hand, has to carry the burden of defense.

There is also a trier of fact who determines whether or not the burden of proof has been met. In most bench trials or non-jury cases, the trier is the judge. However, in a criminal proceeding, it is the jury. The right to a jury trial is a constitutional right under the 6th Amendment. But, since jurors are not experienced in legal proceedings, it is the judge’s duty to explain to the jury, the concept of burden of proof, which is a key source of appeal.

Burden of proof in civil and criminal proceedings

In civil cases, the burden of proof is referred to as the "preponderance of evidence". What that means is the plaintiff must provide evidence that is only slightly more credible than the evidence provided by the defendant. In other words, if the plaintiff can convince the jury or judge that the defendant is more likely than not to be liable, they are said to have met the burden of proof.

In a criminal proceeding, the standard is much higher. The prosecutor or plaintiff must provide evidence that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.