defining reasonable doubt
Reasonable Doubt. Sounds simple enough, right? In truth, it can be a tough burden.
I was browsing through the court filings in this case – www.ninthcircuit.org – and came across a Defense motion that objects to the use of the standard Florida jury instruction with regards to reasonable doubt. It was very interesting. Here’s the link to the defense document: WRITTEN OBJECTION TO THE STANDARD JURY INSTRUCTION ON REASONABLE DOUBT
This motion, written by Andrea Lyon and Jose Baez, opposes the standard definition of reasonable doubt. The defense supplies its proposed verbiage to instruct the jury on reasonable doubt for both the Guilt Phase and the Penalty Phase of the trial and its aftermath.
Before discussing Florida’s definition of Reasonable Doubt, I want to include the definition of reasonable and doubt from my American Version of the Oxford Dictionary to see how we fare in our understanding of the words.
adj.1 having sound judgment. 2 not absurd. 3a not excessive; inexpensive. b tolerable; fair.
n.1 uncertainty; undecided state of mind. 2 inclination to disbelieve. 3 uncertain state of things. 4 lack of full proof. v.1 tr. feel uncertain or undecided about. 2tr. hesitate to believe or trust. 3intr. feel uncertain or undecided. 4 tr. call in question.
Because the definition both of “reasonable” and “doubt” are subjective, it stands to reason why the court attempts to define it in such as way as “reasonable” people can apply their own ethical thermometer to the amount (or level) of reasonable doubt they apply to the question of guilt or non-guilt.
No doubt every juror comes to the table with their own meaning of reasonable doubt no matter what instruction is provided to them.
Is it reasonable to conclude that what you believe is reasonable and what I believe is reasonable will be as different as day is from night?
In “Taming of the Shrew,” characters Petruccio and Kate argue over this very question! He says it’s day, she says night. Are they both wrong? Are day and night really different? The sun and moon are different, but it’s still Monday.
What is reasonable? Every person on the jury will apply their own background, culture, and perhaps educational background to its meaning as they listen to a case. I did as a juror. But, when deliberation begins, individual remembrances of the evidence and testimony becomes like a patchwork that’s collectively sewn together into agreement.
Anyway, below is the standard jury instruction that defines reasonable doubt and aggravating circumstances, for the jury:
Florida’s Standard Jury Instruction in Criminal Cases defines reasonable doubt as follows:
A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt. On the other hand, if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable.
It is to the evidence introduced in this trial and to it alone, that you are to look for that proof.
A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence.
Proposed Instruction on Reasonable Doubt for Guilt Phase
As I have said many times, the government has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of you may have served as jurors in civil cases, where you were told that it is only necessary to prove that a fact is more likely true than not true. In criminal cases, the government’s proof must be more powerful than that. It must be beyond a reasonable doubt.
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 real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.
Proposed Instruction on Reasonable Doubt for Penalty Phase
As I have said many times, the government has the burden of proving each aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt. Some of you may have served as jurors in civil cases, where you were told that it is only necessary to prove that a fact is more likely true than not true. In criminal cases, the government’s proof must be more powerful than that. It must be beyond a reasonable doubt.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced that an aggravating circumstance exists. 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 aggravating circumstance exists, you must find that it exists and give it whatever weight you determine it should receive. If on the other hand, you think there is real possibility that aggravating circumstance does not exist, you must give the defendant the benefit of the doubt and find that it does not exist.
What’s Next in the Case
This is going to be another interesting week in the State v. Casey Anthony case. Judge Perry is scheduled to rule on the Frye motions on or before the 21st of April (Thursday). The next status hearing is scheduled on the 21st, too, though I am not aware of the start time.
I predict the State will prevail and everything comes in!