Innocent until proven guilty. This is a central tenant of our criminal law system. The state has the ultimate burden of proof when it comes to trying criminal defendants. Satisfying this burden of proof is not easy. In reality, the burden of proof involves two separate burdens, the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. A prosecutor (e.g., the attorney representing the state) must clear both of these hurdles in order to find a defendant guilty of a crime.
The First Hurdle: The Burden of Production
The first hurdle that a prosecutor faces in reaching a criminal conviction is the burden of production. This burden requires that the prosecutor introduce a sufficient amount of evidence to suggest that the defendant may have committed the crime. This evidence may include testimony, documents, objects, or the like. Before the trial begins, the prosecutor must enumerate the crimes charged against the defendant and must detail the basis of facts the prosecutor intends to prove to support the criminal allegations. It is the role of the trial judge to determine whether the prosecutor has met this burden of production. If the prosecutor has not satisfied the burden of production, the trial judge will dismiss the case and the defendant will be acquitted.
The Second Hurdle: The Burden of Persuasion
The second hurdle that the prosecutor faces in reaching a conviction is the burden of persuasion. In short, this burden requires that the factfinder--usually a jury in a criminal proceeding--is persuaded that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence offered. The jury will reach their decision after careful deliberations. If the jury is not persuaded by the evidence presented at trial, the defendant will be acquitted of the crime charged.
Production vs. Persuasion
One might ask how it is possible that a prosecutor can satisfy the burden of production without also satisfying the burden of persuasion? The answer to this question rests on the ability of the jury to weigh each piece of evidence differently than the judge. For example, the prosecutor may introduce eyewitness testimony that the defendant committed a burglary. Because the prosecutor has introduced some evidence of the alleged crime, the burden of production is satisfied. The jury, however, may not be persuaded by the evidence introduced. They may find that the eyewitness is not credible, or that the testimony of the witness is contradictory. Thus, the burden of production may be satisfied without persuading the jury that the defendant actually committed the crime.
Getting Help When You Face Criminal Charges.
If you have been charged with a crime in Massachusetts, it is critical that you speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights, provide sound legal advice, prepare you for trial, and defend you in court. Any delay in getting the help you need could damage your case and lead to long-term consequences. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, today for a confidential consultation.
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