Understanding Reasonable Doubt

Last week I had the pleasure of representing a woman who was charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, Driving While her BAC was over .08 and Improper Lane Usage. We had fought this case since October 2008.  After selecting 12 jurors and 1 alternate, the jury heard 2 days of testimony from the arresting officer, 2 experts on the breath machine, my client and the friend she had been with that evening.  The jury deliberated for about 2.5 hours before finding her not guilty on all 3 of the charges.

After the trial, we had the opportunity to speak with the jurors about what they thought about the case.  Overwhelmingly, they said they all had doubt about whether she was for sure guilty of DUI which was their reasonable doubt and they had to find her not guilty.  I was impressed with their understanding of what can be a very confusing term.

Unfortunately, "reasonable doubt" is not defined in any code or case.  As lawyers, we aren't allowed to tell a jury what reasonable doubt is.  All we can do is tell them what it isn't.  Lucky for my client, the jury listened when I told them what it wasn't.

When jurors deliberate, they are not deciding if the person is guilty or innocent.  Rather, they are deciding if the State has proven the person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, in which case they must vote guilty, or if the State didn't, then they must vote not guilty.  Reasonable doubt is not that a juror feels it is more likely than not the defendant is guilty.  That is not enough for reasonable doubt.  Reasonable doubt is not that the juror is 51% sure the defendant is guilty.  If the juror felt that way, they must vote not guilty.  If the State has only shown by a preponderance of the evidence, or by clear and convincing evidence the defendant is guilty, the juror must vote not guilty because the State has failed to prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As a juror it is hard to overcome your personal feelings about a case, or your gut reaction.  But jurors take an oath to uphold the law and to follow the instructions given to them.  This jury last week was able to do that and admit the State had not proven my client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt after hearing all the evidence, and they upheld their oath by finding her not guilty of all charges.

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