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What Does Burden of Proof Mean?

Understanding Burden of Proof

There are many common legal terms used in America. One such term is “burden of proof.” And while it is a frequently used term, it is also one that can be misunderstood. Whether or not you ever find yourself in a courtroom, you should know what basic legal terms like this mean. And that is precisely what this article is for.

So, what does the burden of proof mean? As the name implies, the burden of proof means “the obligation to produce evidence in support of an assertion“. The person required to provide this evidence is the one who bears the burden of proof. The party with the burden of proof is essentially trying to convince a judge or jury that the fact in question is true.

To more easily understand, consider an example wherein there are two suspects of a murder case. The prosecuting attorney has the burden of proof because it is his or her job to prove that one of the two suspects committed the crime. This means that the prosecutor must provide evidence in support of his or her claims.

If the prosecuting attorney is successful and can prove that one of the suspects committed the crime, then it would be up to the suspect to prove their innocence. In such a case, it would be the suspect who bears the burden of proof.

Now that we have the general definition, let’s discuss further why our legal system uses this principle. I will also go over when it is used, how, and the different kinds. Ready? Let’s do it.

The Origins Of Burden of Proof

In earlier days, judges and juries were more likely to rely on guesswork instead of hard evidence. This guesswork was based on their own biases. Some courts allowed accusers to get away with presenting nothing but hearsay testimony as proof that someone committed a crime.

In the United States, the burden of proof was codified in court cases back in 1887. This was in response to courts in the United Kingdom that allowed hearsay testimony. And thus, our modern legal system was born with an emphasis on requiring evidence for claims of wrongdoing.

Why We Use Burden of Proof

The legal principle behind the burden of proof is that it is better to let ten guilty defendants go free than to convict one innocent defendant. This principle, called the presumption of innocence, ensures that nobody will be convicted without sufficient evidence against them.

This principle calls for requiring those who make allegations to back them up with evidence. If the accuser cannot produce evidence, it is assumed that they are wrong. Or, in other words, it is assumed that there is insufficient evidence to support their claims.

Level Of Confidence

Now that you know what the burden of proof is and why it exists, let’s talk about how it can be categorized or divided up into different types. This can be done in two different ways: by the level of confidence and by the number of parties involved.

By level of confidence, there are three types of burden of proof:

  1. Legal burden– this is the standard and most frequently seen type of burden of proof; it is often used in criminal cases. The legal burden means that those who make allegations need to provide evidence that their claims are more likely than not (over 50 percent) true.
  2. The preponderance of the evidence– this means that the party with the burden of proof only needs to provide evidence that their claims are more likely true than not true. This burden of proof is often seen in civil cases where the defendant could face punitive damages, but it is also used occasionally in criminal cases when guilt will result in short-term jail time.
  3. Beyond a reasonable doubt– this type of burden of proof is only seen in criminal cases that have the potential penalty of jail time. It means that those who make allegations need to provide evidence that their claims are virtually certain (over 90 percent) true.

Number Of Parties Involved

The second way to divide up the burden of proof is by the number of parties involved. There are two types here: individual and institutional.

  1. Individual– this means that there are only the accuser and the accused in the case at hand. This type of burden of proof is found in criminal cases where those who make allegations are the only ones to provide evidence that something happened.
  2. Institutional– this means that more than one party is involved in a case, whether it be multiple defendants or actionable parties (such as an employer and employee).

Beyond these distinctions about the burden of proof, you might also find it helpful to know that the standard for the accuser is very low. They only need to produce evidence that their claims are more likely than not true. The defendant, on the other hand, needs to provide evidence that their claims are virtually certain true.

Why We Use Burden of Proof

The legal principle behind the burden of proof is that it is better to let ten guilty defendants go free than to convict one innocent defendant. This principle, called the presumption of innocence, ensures that nobody will be convicted without sufficient evidence against them.

This principle calls for requiring those who make allegations to back them up with evidence. If the accuser cannot produce evidence, it is assumed that they are wrong. Or, in other words, it is assumed that there is insufficient evidence to support their claims.

When It Is Used Today

Most of the time, this legal principle is used in criminal cases. However, it can also be applied to civil cases. Similarly, the burden of proof is used to strengthen a certain party’s argument by requiring them to provide evidence that something is true.

This kind of “burden” usually falls on the person who is arguing for adopting a course of action.

In addition, this principle can be applied in informal debates. Though it isn’t a legal principle, the burden of proof is still very useful because it makes sure that no claim is taken as “fact” unless there is sufficient evidence for believing it’s true.

Determining When Burden Of Proof Is Satisfied

With somewhat vague terms, it’s normal to wonder how it’s decided that the burden of proof has been met. The specific requirements for the burden of proof can vary depending on the context (whether criminal or civil). But, in general, it involves an investigation into certain factors.

One factor is the persuasiveness of evidence. If there is no evidence, the burden of proof hasn’t been satisfied. But if there is evidence, it must be weighed before an evaluation can be made about whether or not it satisfies the burden of proof. This kind of weighing process should also take into account any holes in the arguments for and against a certain claim.

After the court proceedings have been finished, it is ultimately up to the judge or jury to decide whether or not the burden of proof has been fulfilled. If so, they will rule in favor of the party who had the burden of proof on them.

Is There Burden Of Proof During A Deposition?

During depositions, there are several burdens presented. However, the two major ones that will be discussed in this answer are evidentiary and tactical.

  • Evidential burden– one party (usually the person being deposed) must provide evidence to support their claims while the other party does not have to produce any evidence at all. It is also worth noting that the evidentiary burden is much lower than normal.
  • Tactical burden– the person asking questions during a deposition must consider their strategy when posing them to the deponent to avoid unnecessary objections or provide evidence that will help the other party’s case. For instance, if you asked each question in isolation, it would be much easier for the other party to object based on relevance. On the other hand, if you asked all of your questions together it would be much more difficult to object because they wouldn’t have any idea which ones were irrelevant until after the questioning was finished.

Is Burden Of Proof A Useful Legal Standard?

The burden of proof is a useful standard because it prevents people from being convicted without sufficient evidence. This, in turn, ensures that nobody will be convicted if there is no evidence against them or very little evidence.

However, the burden of proof can also prevent defendants from presenting their side of an issue completely. This means that it can be unfair to the defendant.

Thus, the burden of proof is a controversial legal standard that can help ensure people are treated fairly or prevent them from getting a fair trial. It’s up to society and the law to decide which one should take priority in each case.

Is Burden Of Proof A Constitutional Right?

No, the burden of proof isn’t a constitutional right. However, it is a type of legal standard that can sometimes be part of the U.S. Constitution and other state constitutions. As such, it falls under due process rights and protections for defendants in criminal cases.

So if you’re asking if you would be guaranteed burden of proof in your criminal case the answer is no. However, it’s still possible that if you are tried in federal court or another type of state court then you could be entitled to the burden of proof as part of certain rights meant to ensure due process for defendants.

I hope this article was helpful to you! Now you know what the burden of proof means and how it is used in our legal system. Remember if you need legal advice to contact an attorney, this site is just a general resource.

Written By

Matt has over 10 years of legal writing experience. He's worked and written for legal websites for serval websites including Truskett Law, Bruner Law, Jeffrey & Erwin, Gary Crews, PLLC., Deposition Academy, and Wagner & Lynch.

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