Public Outrage at Casey Anthony Verdict: Understanding the Differences in the Burden of Proof From Civil to Criminal Cases.

Many are shocked and outraged following yesterday’s verdict for Casey Anthony in her trial for the murder of her young daughter Caylee. Following a trial that lasted seven weeks, the jury in the Casey Anthony case came back with a not-guilty verdict based on the existence of reasonable doubt.

Ultimately, prosecution in the Casey Anthony case fell short of establishing that Casey Anthony murdered Caylee beyond a reasonable doubt. Because they were not able to provide the jurors with sufficient evidence to prove the important link between mother and daughter, jurors were not able to produce a guilty verdict within the required standard of proof.

This case, and the verdict that followed, is an important reminder of the different standards of proof required in both civil and criminal cases, and what it takes to establish a guilty conviction.

In most civil cases the burden of proof required is “preponderance of the evidence”. This lesser civil standard is met if the proposition is more likely to be true than not true. This means the plaintiff is found to have met their burden of proof if they are able to show that their side has evidence that is more convincing than the defendant’s evidence. If, after reviewing the evidence, there exists in the mind of the trier of fact an equal balance between finding for the plaintiff and finding against the plaintiff, the claim has not been established by a preponderance of the evidence.

Some civil cases require a slightly higher standard of proof, which is “clear and convincing evidence”. While this doesn’t rise to the standard needed for criminal cases, it is more demanding than a preponderance of the evidence standard. To meet the standard of proof required by clear and convincing evidence, the proof presented has to “produce in the mind of the trier of facts a firm belief or conviction as to the facts sought to be established”.

Most of our clients at Crumpton Law deal with civil matters, and are consequently faced with the lower standard of proof of preponderance of the evidence.  Having a lower standard of proof may make the likelihood of success more attainable for many individuals.

In contrast, Ohio criminal cases require the highest standard of proof. Given the potential of criminal cases to result in much harsher sentences than civil cases, including life in prison or execution, the prosecution carries the burden to prove each element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

In the Anthony case, defense attorney Cheney Mason presented a burden of proof chart, highlighting the high level of proof that beyond a reasonable doubt requires. The burden of proof chart Mason presented outlined all the different feelings that would be encompassed under “not guilty”, showing that even a small sliver of uncertainty would prevent a guilty verdict.

The Ohio Revised Code notes that reasonable doubt is “a doubt based on reason and common sense. Reasonable doubt is not mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs or depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. ‘Proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ is proof of such character that an ordinary person would be willing to rely and act upon it in the most important of the person’s own affairs”.

Whether the evidence against the defendant is circumstantial or direct, the same standard exists. It also means that it is not up to the defense to prove their own version of events, they just have to make sure the prosecution doesn’t prove their claims beyond a reasonable doubt.

The high standard of proof required in criminal cases have left many feeling that justice was not served in the Anthony case. But as defense attorney Cheney Mason’s chart showed, even a strong belief in Casey’s guilt is not enough to meet the standard of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For that same reason, others consider yesterday’s verdict an important preservation of constitutional standards in this country. While many have voiced opinions about flaws in our judicial system, an important tenant exists in our county. That tenant is the presumption of innocence. Such a presumption and the burden of proof it carries is designed to help ensure that individuals do not face the high costs of conviction if there is any reasonable doubt that they committed the crime.

Crumpton Law LLC and its attorneys practice small business law in Columbus, Ohio, and throughout the surrounding counties and cities of Franklin County, Delaware County, Union County, Madison County, Pickaway County, Fairfield County, Licking County, Dublin, Powell, Lewis Center, Worthington, Westerville, New Albany, Gahanna, Bexley, Reynoldsburg, Canal Winchester, Grove City, Hilliard and Upper Arlington.

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