Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Reasonable Doubt Definition:

A threshold of proof in criminal cases in most modern criminal law systems which requires the trier of fact to be sure, not certain, of the accused's guilt, before convicting.

Related Terms: Balance of Probabilities, Burden of Proof, Trial

A threshold or burden of proof in criminal cases, and a requirement in most modern criminal law systems, which requires the prosecutor or district attorney to prove to the trier of fact to be sure, not certain, of the accused guilt, before convicting.

For years, the common law Courts were reluctant to define this term, hoping that it was self-evident.

In 1920, Justice Walker of New Jersey, in State v Linker, wrote:

"Reasonable doubt is not mere possible doubt.

"It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they canot say they feel an abiding conviction to a moral certainty of the truth of the charge."

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada, in R v Lifchus, suggested this explanation:

"The accused enters these proceedings presumed to be innocent.  That presumption of innocence remains throughout the case until such time as the Crown has on the evidence put before you satisfied you beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.

"What does the expression beyond a reasonable doubt mean? The term beyond a reasonable doubt has been used for a very long time and is a part of our history and traditions of justice.  It is so engrained in our criminal law that some think it needs no explanation, yet something must be said regarding its meaning.

"A reasonable doubt is not an imaginary or frivolous doubt.  It must not be based upon sympathy or prejudice.  Rather, it is based on reason and common sense.  It is logically derived from the evidence or absence of evidence.

"Even if you believe the accused is probably guilty or likely guilty, that is not sufficient.  In those circumstances you must give the benefit of the doubt to the accused and acquit because the Crown has failed to satisfy you of the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand you must remember that it is virtually impossible to prove anything to an absolute certainty and the Crown is not required to do so.  Such a standard of  proof is impossibly high.

"In short if, based upon the evidence before the court, you are sure that the accused committed the offence you should convict since this demonstrates that you are satisfied of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."


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