Texas Penal Code §2.01 PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT:
"All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that he has been arrested, confined, or indicted for, or otherwise charged with, the offense gives rise to no inference of guilt at his trial."
I tried a case this week and was fortunate enough to have received an acquittal. I was very pleased, as could be expected. I was very thankful to have had the opportunity to work in a very fair court, with a great judge, jury, and a very fair prosecutor.
Before the trial, I made it my mission (even more so than usual) to do everything in my power to convey to the jury how high the "Burden of Proof" is in a criminal trial. I wanted to make sure they understood that an arrest is made based on "Probable Cause." The standard in a criminal trial is much, much higher. But a conviction should only be determined if the jury believes the State has proven their case "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt."
I use the chart above as an illustration on this point when I am presenting to a jury.
The cornerstone of my voir dire is in presenting to the jury a series of hypotheticals based on the other levels of proof needed within our justice system. For instance, "Clear and Convincing" evidence is the standard used by Child Protective Services (CPS) when determining whether a child should be removed from a home. I usually ask a juror, usually one with children, how much proof they would want the Government to bring before being allowed to take their children away and placing them with a foster family. The answer almost invariably is, "A lot."
I then explain that the standard in a criminal trial is even higher. I try and explain to them that it is so high because in our country, we place our freedom above everything else. I usually reference how "With Liberty and Justice For All" is what we were taught to say in the "Pledge of Allegiance" in grade school.
In this trial, I tried even harder to explain how high the burden is to convict someone of a crime, mainly because I thought the facts of the case called for it. I wrote about this in my article "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" following one trial I had where I felt the jury understood the concept, and one where I felt they didn't.
I tried my absolute best to reiterate this crucial point during my voir dire, my opening, and especially in my closing. I went so far as to say that if they only remembered one thing from everything I said during the entire course of the trial, I would be most satisfied knowing they understood this concept. I personal believe this is one of the most important, if not THE MOST important, tasks a criminal attorney has when presenting a criminal case before a jury.
The end result with whether an attorney was successful in conveying this concept can sometimes can be measured when the jury gives their comments as to why they rendered a certain verdict. In this trial, almost every juror said the same thing. They all collectively in one way or another said they thought she "may" have been guilty, but they just didn’t think it was proven "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt." When this is said after a verdict, I can’t help but be thankful that I was adequately able to do my job in an effective manner. Even if the jury determines that the accused is "Guilty" of the charge, I would still want them to communicate to me that they did so considering proof so convincing it was "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt." Even if I lose, I still can feel I did my job. And this is all anyone can ever ask from our justice system.
I relish these moments because I know there will be times in the future that I will not be so successful. I am not trying to pat myself on the back with this, because I know most criminal attorneys are able to accomplish this when they try a case to a jury. I DO NOT think I am special. In fact, I fail on most days when doing my job almost more often than I succeed.
However, I do take pride when this happens because I find this concept to be so important. I think being able to communicate it passionately and effectively to a jury should almost be a given with any attorney who accepts the responsibility of representing the accused. I know in the future there will likely be times when I will feel there is something I could have done differently to help the jury understand and comprehend the gravity of finding someone "Guilty" of a criminal offense. But for now, I personally slept better after the trial knowing I was able to do my job well for this particular case.