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What Is Clear And Convincing Evidence In Criminal Cases?

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Criminal laws place the burden of proof on prosecutors when they present evidence to prove charged individuals engaged in the alleged unlawful acts. The law also applies sets of legal standards that define the type of evidence presented to a jury. For prosecutors, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applies when they attempt to prove their criminal cases. The “clear and convincing evidence” standard that can be used by the defense could, however, serve as a less rigorous standard.

What Does the Clear and Convincing Evidence Standard Require? 

A defense based on the “clear and convincing evidence” standard generally only requires the jury to decide that a defendant’s version of the facts is the one that is “more likely” to be true than false. If you’ve been charged with an alleged unlawful act, your criminal defense strategy could include showing that the prosecutor’s evidence has the much greater likelihood of being false.

The jury’s belief in the evidence presented

To avoid a conviction, the facts presented as a defense in a criminal case must persuade the jury to have a “firm belief” in their truthfulness. The defense’s evidence needs to sow enough doubt in a prosecutor’s claims so that all twelve jurors are left with a strong conviction to believe that a defendant did not carry out the alleged unlawful activities.

In some cases, a defendant may face blame for an alleged unlawful act based on evidence collected and shown to the jury when his or her role was merely that of a bystander at the scene of the crime. While the prosecution must present evidence that meets the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, the defense may present facts based on the less demanding “clear and convincing evidence” standard to convince a jury.

What Factors Could Help Evidence Meet the “Clear and Convincing” Standard? 

The “clear and convincing” standard for evidence could apply to credible facts or undisputable visual elements, such as those typically used to decide the outcomes of civil negligence cases. Although prosecutors must rely on the far-reaching “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to win over a jury, the defense can counter with evidence that is at least:

  • Unambiguous: This is the “clear” factor that enables the evidence to be easily understood and free of “gray areas” or murky statements.
  • Persuasive: This serves as the “convincing” factor and describes the evidence’s intended effect on the members of the jury.
  • Reliable: The evidence should not reflect third-party hearsay and it should also stand up to fact-checking.
  • Objective: The evidence should not rely on someone’s subjective opinion. Testimony provided by an expert third-party witness, such as a forensic engineer or crime scene reconstruction specialist could, however, have a significant impact on the jury’s deliberations.

Overall, the “clear and convincing” standard means that the evidence is much more likely to be true than false. A seasoned criminal defense attorney will often consult with experts at the top of their respective fields, such as scientists, psychologists and medical doctors, in order to develop an optimal defense strategy.

Examples of clear and convincing evidence

A criminal defense attorney could retrieve time-stamped images or video footage from surveillance cameras to demonstrate where a defendant was at the time the alleged crime took place. When they appear with timestamps, this type of visual evidence could meet the “clear factor” and help convince a jury that the defendant was not at the scene of the crime when it occurred.

Compelling testimony provided under oath by a credible witness could also help convince a jury that the defendant did not commit — or could not have committed — the alleged unlawful act. Because a criminal case requires a unanimous 12-member guilty verdict, the defense’s evidence may only need to sow enough doubt in one or two juror’s minds to result in an acquittal, hung jury or mistrial.

Are Some Types of Prosecutors’ Claims Easier To Counter Through Clear and Convincing Evidence? 

Because a criminal case’s required “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is typically needed to sway a jury to convict, prosecutors may decide to not introduce every piece of evidence gathered. Information that could, for example, be considered hearsay or circumstantial may not hold up against a defense attorney’s “clear and convincing” evidence. Spoken statements that imply or suggest that someone broke the law may also appear untruthful if they came from outside of the courtroom.

Some of the more easily countered types of evidence from prosecutors may consist of:

  • Gossip or overheard conversations about weapons used in armed robberies
  • Prior convictions unrelated to the currently alleged unlawful act
  • Irrelevant handwritten notes, documents or electronic messages
  • Items that were improperly obtained by law enforcement, such as through an illegal search or seizure
  • Evidence based on a prejudice that causes harm

South Carolina’s statutes regarding character evidence

South Carolina’s laws governing criminal trials may disallow certain types of evidence used by a prosecutor to describe a defendant’s characteristics in a negative light. Prosecutors may not easily introduce evidence regarding a defendant’s traits or characteristics to persuade a jury a defendant committed a crime.

With a valid exception, the prosecution may have a way to introduce evidence that describes a defendant’s characteristics; this would depend on how clearly it could help prove an individual’s unlawful intentions or motives. If character-based evidence manages to find its way into a criminal trial, however, an experienced criminal defense attorney could respond with a reasonable degree of clear and convincing evidence to counter it.

How May a Criminal Defense Attorney Build a Strategy to Counter a Prosecutor’s Claims? 

A legal defense may involve filing motions to introduce clear and convincing evidence to dispute each of the prosecution’s claims. An experienced attorney will compile and review all of the available facts and information related to your case that the prosecution plans to show the jury. A defense attorney will also gather and evaluate evidence, interview witnesses to assess their credibility and look for inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s evidence.

Before the trial, your attorney could request to include evidence that could serve as your defense. Your defense attorney may ask that the jury members hear testimonies from credible eyewitnesses who were at the alleged crime scene. If you also carried a mobile device with you, your defense attorney could request to use its data or GPS coordinates to show you were not at the scene of an alleged crime during the time it took place.

Don’t Let a Criminal Charge Ruin Your Life 

Law enforcement officials have the authority to file charges against individuals allegedly engaged in wrongful actions, but the burden of proof falls upon the prosecutors. A conviction depends on a prosecutor’s ability to convince a jury — beyond all reasonable doubt — that the defendant on trial is guilty of the alleged misconduct. The standards and methods followed could influence the court’s decision, and an experienced defense attorney knows how to counteract each method.

If you’re facing a charge of an alleged crime, a skilled criminal defense attorney from Jeffcoat Criminal Defense Lawyers can ensure that your constitutional rights remain protected throughout the entire trial process. We’ll work hard to protect your freedom, livelihood and reputation. We’re ready and well-prepared to fight for you. Contact us now to schedule a no-fee case consultation.

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