Burden of Proof and How It Affects You

Burden of Proof

Those of us who are old enough remember the OJ Simpson trial very well. We remember seeing the white Bronco on the LA freeways in a low-speed chase with police. We remember the trial that lasted for a long time and the court drawings that made their way on our TV screens night after night.

We also remember the televised moment when OJ Simpson was declared “not guilty” of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman.

More than 20 years later, Simpson is serving time in Arizona for a different crime. However, this story has not gotten less popular, sparking a TV miniseries and a series of radio stories, to name just a few things.

One of the interesting parts of the whole thing was when, after his criminal trial, OJ Simpson was ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

This effectively sent the message that a second jury felt he was guilty of the crimes and wanted to make him pay. Even a plaintiff lawyer, at the time, felt it was an extraordinarily large sum that Simpson – then worth about 10 million – would never be able to pay.

Why Such a Different Verdict in the Second Trial?

Some people point to the fact that Simpson’s first jury was made up of a majority of African American jurors and that much was made of his being targeted for his race and status as a celebrity. The jury in his civil trial was majority white, and no mention was made of his celebrity status.

In addition, jurors in the civil trial would have been subjected to the same media circus as the rest of us through the criminal proceedings. Make of that what you will, but one of the main differences in any criminal trial as opposed to a civil trial is burden of proof.

What Is Burden of Proof?

The term, burden of proof gets thrown around a lot. It simply means the duty to prove the facts. In most cases, the facts are disputed.

In a criminal case, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. In other words, if our government charges you with a crime, it must prove, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that you did it in order to convict you.

Of course, it doesn’t always work perfectly. Sometimes innocent people get convicted. However, the standard is there to keep more innocent people from conviction.

Standard of Proof

This is where it gets interesting. The standard for this proof is different for a civil trial. A civil trial only requires “proof by a preponderance of evidence.”

In some cases, this is 50% plus and in some cases it requires “clear and convincing” proof.

Do you see the difference?

In one case, jurors must decide, based on the evidence presented about this one case and this case only, whether a defendant did the crime. They must methodically consider each piece of contested evidence and the arguments of the attorneys. They must look carefully to see if it all lines up. Even then, if only one juror has a “reasonable doubt,” the jury can’t convict.

The standard of proof is much lower in a civil case because it’s about money and not prison time. At the most, the evidence must be convincing and clear.

For the jurors of Simpson’s civil trial – who heard the same evidence as at his criminal case – it was enough. Well, enough for 9 out of 12 jurors anyway. That’s all you need for a civil conviction. So, even if that jury had tried OJ Simpson in his criminal trial, he would have been acquitted.

Take Away

What do you think? Were the jurors at the second trial swayed by the first trial? Was an award that large warranted when Simpson was acquitted?

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