The Balance of Proof in Criminal law and Civil law have several differences. Civil actions usually involve a plaintiff and a defendant settling their dispute through the court system. A criminal case is the government on behalf of society through the police bringing charges against an individual for a wrong they have committed against a member of society.
In Civil cases the standard of proof is ‘on the balance of probabilities’. In criminal cases the standard is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. How does the standard work?
When proving criminal guilt, responsibility for proving guilt rests with the prosecution. This means that a prosecutor must prove in court that an accused person did in fact commit a crime beyond reasonable doubt. An accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is not a defence lawyer’s role to prove that a person is innocent.
Prosecutors need to prove that an act has been committed. There are both physical and mental elements of the crime. Awareness that conduct is a crime is the mental element.
Just what is reasonable doubt? A reasonable doubt is a doubt that a jury consider reasonable on consideration of the evidence. It is a jury’s role to say whether it has a doubt that it considers reasonable. After consideration of the evidence against an accused person if the jury has doubt about the guilt of a person, then the criminal charge has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt. It is not to be determined by a percentage of calculation.
Consider the recent cases of women wearing a burqa. They were not able to be properly identified and could not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defence of Intoxication
An alarming increase in assaults and assaults occasioning bodily harm are being blamed on intoxication by the person charged with the crime. But does intoxication provide a defence? NO. It can however have a bearing on whether a jury believes that a person had the required mental element to commit a crime.
The onus of proof lies upon a prosecutor to remove any reasonable doubt from a jury’s mind which may have been raised by the evidence of a person’s intoxication. A prosecutor must persuade a jury beyond reasonable doubt that a person’s state of intoxication was not such as to deny the relevant state of mind which might otherwise be found from the other evidence.
If because of evidence as to intoxication a jury is not satisfied that a person did in fact have the necessary intent, the jury must find a person not guilty of a crime if the crime requires intent.
Most serious criminal offences require proof that a person intended to commit the crime. A range of defences may be available depending on the nature of and circumstances of the crime. However strict liability regardless of intention applies to some offences.
This is a general overview. For more detailed information contact our office.