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Levels Of Proof In The Florida Criminal Process


From watching TV and movies, you probably know that a prosecuting attorney must prove you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” to secure a conviction in a criminal case. However, you may not fully comprehend what this standard means and how it differs from other levels of proof in the criminal process. The Florida Supreme Court Standard Jury Instructions, which are read to members of the jury before they head off to deliberate, describes different burdens and proof in criminal cases. An overview should be useful, but you should consult with a Florida criminal defense attorney regarding the specifics in your case.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

This is the standard that applies during your trial and it describes the burden of proof for the prosecutor. The Florida jury instructions go into great detail about what beyond a reasonable doubt means:

  • Speculation, questioning, or forced doubt are insufficient to convict;
  • Reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt;
  • If the jury wavers or vacillates on guilt, the burden is not met;
  • The prosecutor must prove guilty beyond “every” reasonable doubt; and,
  • The reasonable doubt may come from the evidence or a lack thereof.

Clear and Convincing Evidence

One notch below reasonable doubt, the clear and convincing evidentiary standard applies if you are accused of domestic violence. The petitioner must provide the court with a firm belief or conviction that the allegations are true to obtain a temporary restraining order. In addition, this standard may come up where the defendant is claiming mental health issues are a factor in a criminal case.

Preponderance of the Evidence

If you are accused of violating the terms of your probation, the state must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that you engaged in the alleged activity. It may also be your own burden if you are attempting to prove an affirmative defense for a crime. Generally, a preponderance means that it is more likely than not that:

  • You did violate parole; or,
  • You did engage in actions that amount to an affirmative defense.

Probable Cause

This standard applies to arrests, where law enforcement must have probable cause to charge you with a crime. Probable cause is also the burden police must prove, and which a judge must review, when deciding whether to issue a search warrant. The US Supreme Court has held that probable cause must be more than “bare suspicion,” and that the facts must be enough to lead a reasonable person to believe a crime has been or is being committed.

Reasonable Suspicion

At the lowest end of the scale, reasonable suspicion is the burden police must meet to conduct an investigative stop of a person when they believe criminal activity is stirring. Mere curiosity, hunches, or speculation are not enough to detain someone for investigative purposes, and the burden goes up a notch to probable cause if law enforcement does decide to make an arrest.

Discuss Criminal Charges with an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you were arrested, convicted, or otherwise involved in a criminal case and need advice, please contact Fort Lauderdale, FL defense attorney Kevin J. Kulik. We can schedule a free consultation to tell you more about burdens of proof at various stages of the criminal process.



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