Given the importance of the phrase “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases, attorneys, judges, defendants, and even jurors are surprisingly not given much of a definition as to exactly what it means.
The Oregon State Bar Uniform Criminal Jury Instruction (UCrJI) No. 1009, defines the the phrase “reasonable doubt” as: “Doubt based on common sense and reason. Reasonable doubt is not an imaginary doubt. Reasonable doubt means an honest uncertainty as to the guilt of the defendant. You must return a verdict of not guilty if, after careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence in the case, you are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt or to a moral certainty that the defendant is guilty.”
From a defense attorney’s perspective, the typical analysis suggested to jurors in closing arguments is that the jurors should individually first examine whether they have any doubts whatsoever that the Defendant is guilty of the crime that the Defendant is accused of. In the most broad and expansive sense, jurors are asked to see if they have any doubt. Then, if the jurors have any doubts, the jurors are asked to determine whether those doubts are reasonable or based on reason. If so, the argument follows that the Defendant should be found “not guilty.”
Another important argument for jurors is that individual doubts may vary, and they collectively may result in an acquittal (i.e. a verdict of “not guilty”). In other words, in the case of a Defendant charged with Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII), the jury of six must return with all six jurors voting “guilty” or all six jurors voting “not guilty.” The government must prove– among other elements– that the Defendant drove a motor vehicle upon premises open to the public. Assume that three jurors believe that the Defendant drove upon premises open to the public, but that at the time the Defendant drove, that the Defendant wasn’t drunk or impaired. Further assume that the other three jurors actually believe that the Defendant was drunk or impaired, but that the Defendant didn’t drive upon premises open to the public because the Defendant drove only upon a private driveway or road closed to the general public. In this case the jurors have different doubts, but collectively their doubts would result in an acquittal.
For more information on elements of crimes, burdens of proof, or legal defenses available in different types of cases or fact patterns, contact our office for a consultation.