What is Reasonable Doubt in Illinois?

No matter whether you reside in Illinois or any other state, no matter whether you are tried in state or federal court, no matter if you are put on trial for possession of a controlled substance or homicide, the standard of proof used to convict is reasonable doubt.  Reading the phrase conveys a well-known sentiment that has been used for over a century in this country, but what exactly does it mean?

The LLI defines the criminal standard of proof as, “when a juror cannot say with moral certainty that a person is guilty.”  This statement begs the question, what is moral certainty?  Moral certainty is defined as, “the reasonable belief (but falling short of absolute certainty) of the trier of the fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) that the evidence shows the defendant is guilty.”  You would think that such a heavy burden of proof would be outlined with a specific characterization in the Illinois statute, but the statute merely reads, “Every person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. No person shall be convicted of any offense unless his guilt thereof is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. “  It is also important to understand that the presiding Judge in a criminal trial may not, in Illinois, instruct jurors as to what reasonable doubt means.  In the 2012 case, Illinois v. Franklin, Franklin was convicted of criminal sexual abuse.  The case was appealed to the appellate court that reversed based on reversible error committed by the presiding trial court Judge.  The appellate court stated, “the trial court’s instruction to potential jurors that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is “what each of you individually and collectively, as 12 of you, believe is beyond a reasonable doubt” violated defendant’s constitutional rights, since judges in Illinois courts are prohibited from defining “reasonable doubt,” the trial court’s error was structural error and was compounded when the prosecutor reminded the jury of the trial court’s statement during closing argument, there was a likelihood the jurors understood a conviction could be based on proof less than a reasonable doubt, and reversal was required under the plain error doctrine.”

You have to ask yourself, if the standard of proof is so ambiguous, and the precise definition so elusive, and the trial judge is prohibited from instructing the jury, who is going to adequately inform a jury of the meaning of reasonable doubt?  The answer is simple and complicated in the same vein.  Your attorney is charged with the responsibility of explaining to the jury what exactly reasonable doubt is and how it should be applied.  That is the simple part.  The complicated part is finding an attorney who can adequately explain what reasonable doubt is to a jury.  If you are charged with any criminal crime immediately contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney.

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