Reasonable Doubt Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Reasonable Doubt, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Reasonable Doubt?

(n) Reasonable doubts refer to the benefit of doubt given to the defendant before making certain that the defendant is guilty of the crime. For a criminal charge a jury or judge must be convinced of the guilt done by the defendant before punishing him. Benefit of doubts always favor the accused.

History and Definition of Reasonable Doubt

Reasonable doubt is a legal term that has its origins in the English common law system. It is a legal principle that is used in criminal cases and refers to the level of certainty that must be met before a defendant can be found guilty and punished. The concept behind reasonable doubt is that a person should not be punished for a crime unless there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the crime.

Examples of Reasonable Doubt

  1. In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the jury must be convinced, based on the evidence presented, that there is no other logical explanation for the crime other than the defendant being responsible.

  2. The concept of reasonable doubt can also apply in civil cases. For example, if a person is being sued for negligence, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent, and that this negligence caused the plaintiff harm, on the basis of the balance of probabilities. This means that it is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent.

  3. In cases where there is conflicting evidence, the jury may have a reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt. If the jury cannot reach a verdict, this is known as a hung jury and the case may be retried.

Legal Terms Similar to Reasonable Doubt

  1. Preponderance of evidence: the standard of proof required in a civil case in which the plaintiff must prove that their version of events is more likely than not to be true.
  2. Clear and convincing evidence: a higher standard of proof than preponderance of evidence but lower than beyond a reasonable doubt, used in some civil cases.
  3. Probable cause: the standard of proof required for a law enforcement officer to make an arrest, conduct a search, or obtain a warrant. It requires that the officer have a reasonable belief that a crime has been or is being committed.