Thursday, August 25, 2011

GUILTY - Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

This posting is based on a presentation given to the Philosophy Club, The Villages, FL, on 26 August 2011.

The PowerPoint slides may be downloaded here.


In CIVIL cases, where one person or organization is suing another, the standard is Preponderance of the Evidence, meaning that the winning side must tip the scale of justice by at least a little bit.

In CRIMINAL cases, where The State charges an individual, the standard is much higher. It is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, meaning The State has a very high burden of proof, reflecting the seriousness of the charge and the potential punishment.

In the past, the phrase "and to a moral certainty" has been used, but it is no longer used in NY and NJ and some other states because it is "outdated and potentially confusing". Indeed, some people interpret the standard to essentially require that the judge and jury find the defendant guilty beyond all doubt, which is an impossible task in many crimes.

According to the Federal Judicial Center:

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant's guilt.
There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt.
If, based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find him guilty.
If on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.


In the well publicized OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony cases, many of us think the jury acted in error in finding the defendants not guilty.

OJ was rich enough to hire an excellent defense team. His celebrity and race appears to have led to what is called "jury nullification" where evidence is ignored in favor of some higher considerations. In this case, it was an ill-considered effort to correct past and ongoing discrimination by the US justice system against poor people in general an African-Americans in particular by releasing a rich man who, despite his race, has done very well in our country.

Casey Anthony, on the other hand, was neither rich nor black, but she was young and (to some) good-looking, and the unusual nature of the crime she was charged with and her bizarre actions after the death of her daughter attracted media attention. The State (IMHO) over-charged her by going for first-degree murder. No one (but Casey) may ever know exactly what happened, but I believe she was not guilty of pre-meditated murder but only of horribly negligent actions that led to her daughter's demise. I think she over-medicated the child with chloroform, to quiet her so she would be free to go out on the town.


Part of the problem is the unreasonably high level of expectation of proof juries have come to expect based on their experience watching crime programs such as Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) on TV. In many of those programs, the evidence is solidly physical and overwhelming. Juries therefore have a tough time with circumstantial evidence.


If a guilty person is mistakenly acquitted, he or she will likely recidivate and commit further crimes, condemning innocent civilians to becoming victims of crimes.
Many wrongly convicted defendants have bad past records. They are most likely guilty of something.
Not-guilty verdicts reduce respect for and fear of the police force, and thus are detrimental to public safety.


If an innocent is wrongly convicted,then the cops stop looking for the actual criminal. He or she is still free, posing a danger of further crime.
A guilty person mistakenly acquitted is likely to be re-arrested for further crimes and eventually will be jailed, and justice done.
» A guilty verdict in a highly charged case (e.g., O.J. Simpson) may cause riots. Better to let one killer go free than to have more innocents die.
Many defendants are poor and have been abused by their families and society. Their crimes are a cry for help. Forgive them!
A guilty person may escape justice on Earth, but will be severely punished in the afterlife. God’s justice will be done.


Within six years of release, after serving their term in prison, over 70% of convicted criminals will be arrested for a crime, and an astounding 50% will be convicted of another crime. Recidivism rates are higher for those released at younger ages. Thus, given that convicts have high recidivism rates, it stands to reason that criminals who get away with their crimes (either by not being arrested or, if arrested, being found not guilty by the jury), will have even higher recidivism rates since they are generally younger.

The graphic at the head of this posting shows the consequences.

1) Given ten murderers in a community, there are likely to be about twenty victims (since many murders involve more than one victim).

2) Violent crimes tend to be cleared by arrest at a rate of about 60% for murder. (Other violent crimes have clearance rates that are much lower, such as about 25% for rape. Non-violent crimes have even lower clearance rates, below 20% for theft and burglary.)

3) Thus, only about six of our ten murderers will be arrested and charged. Conviction rates are about 80%, so only about five of those six charged will be convicted and jailed.

4) This failure of justice leaves five murders out on the street, and they are likely to commit an additional ten murders.

5) Furthermore, when the jailed murders are released after serving their sentences, come of them will likely recidivate, leading to even more dead people.

Please consider the above if you even have the opportunity to serve on a jury!

Ira Glickstein