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The Burden of Proof Explained


The burden of proof (onus probandi in Latin), means that the accuser(the State) needs to have enough evidence to convince the judge and the jury and show them that the defendant is in fact, beyond any reasonable doubt, guilty of the charges. The city of Las Vegas, of course, follows this obligation.

The party who does not have the burden of proof has the benefit of assumption, meaning the defending party cannot or chose not to produce proof, and it is up to the prosecution to find the facts and collect the evidence pertaining to the case. The defendant still has to deny some or all of the accusations so their party can attempt to disprove them.

At the same time, the defendant is supported by the presumption of innocence, in short, “innocent, until proven guilty”.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt

It will help if you’ve read our post about Las Vegas court procedures.

The evidence has to be beyond reasonable doubt before any sort of sentencing moves forward. This means that there should be close to no doubt at all that the defendant is actually responsible for the crimes. They have to be absolutely sure, but it does not mean that they have to be 100% sure, but they should be close to it as possible as inferred from the evidence. If there’s any doubt at all, while still within reason, or the jury can’t decide, the defendant will be found not guilty of the charges against him.

It also serves to protect a human’s rights so this high standard is required, criminal cases can lead to persons being falsely accused, and then incarcerated (possibly for life) or even sent to their death. Without this legal standard, cases like the West Memphis Three will be more frequent, ending up with more lives wasted and lost.

Failing to meet the burden

If the prosecution fails to produce enough evidence or the defendant presents a stronger case, the defendant will be found not guilty due to the lack of evidence.


Imagine two children chasing each other inside their home. One is the older and known as the responsible one, while the other is younger and has a reputation of being, well, all over the place. They’re chasing each other because the younger one used his toothbrush.

Because they’re running around,  they unintentionally knock off a vase that’s very important heirloom to their mother. Their parents came to see what’s the commotion about and see what’s left of their precious vase, but the older sibling points to to the younger sibling as the culprit, even though he is innocent. What is he to do then?

The parents are a bit angry but they are reasonable folk. They don’t immediately judge that their younger child broke the vase, so they then ask them what’s their take of the events. They each give their statements, but the older sibling has to have proof that the younger one did do it, even if it’s more likely that he didn’t do it.

Since the older sibling (or the accuser) has the burden of proof, he has to find evidence supporting that the younger one did it. While the younger sibling (defendant) has to refute the older sibling’s accusations.

And it keeps going on until the parents (judge and/or jury) decide they have enough information so they know what to do.

In any case, both of them will be punished because they really shouldn’t be running around in the first place.

It is the job of a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney to navigate through the legal process, and help you defend against accusations made against you. Contact a criminal defense attorney for help today!


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Columbia Law Review

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