Secretariat won beyond a reasonable doubt.
In America, before the government can ruin your life, they have the burden of proof. A girl’s life is on the line in Savannah, Georgia. The State of Georgia must rule out all reasonable doubts that she is guilty of DUI. You all have heard this before. The government must disprove all reasonable doubts.
Wouldn’t you agree that a reasonable doubt exists if the DUI breath test is broken? So then, the Chatham County District Attorney must disprove this doubt and prove that their breath test machine was functioning properly.
Isn’t there a reasonable doubt if the District Attorney doesn’t prove to you that Rachael is a good candidate for the DUI field sobriety tests?
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest level of certainty in the American Justice system. Has the District Attorney presented proof beyond a reasonable doubt that rules out everything but alcohol as a cause of Rachael’s failure to maintain lane and speeding?
Presumption of Innocence
Rachael is a citizen accused in Savannah, Georgia. She is fully cloaked with the presumption of innocence. The law says you have to start out biased in favor of the accused. You must start out on Rachael’s side and you cannot change unless you are given the strongest proof known to the law. Rachael starts presumed to win, and she can only lose if the State of Georgia completely disproves all other explanations, using science, no matter what Rachael does.
Imagine this is a football game. The prosecution in a DUI trial (dressed in orange and blue) starts on its own goal line. Unless the District Attorney moves the ball all the way up the field, proving each and every thing beyond a reasonable doubt, you must find her not guilty. You must root for Rachael (dressed in red and black) to be found not guilty.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt puts the prosecution on the goal line, but the presumption of innocence puts twice the normal number of red and black defenders on the field. The Constitution of the United States of America gives every accused these defenders to battle against the State. Rachael, simply by being accused is given these defenders without her ever having to say a word, present a witness, or doing anything. These defenders are you.
Levels of Proof
We start with a hunch. It is a guess. In DUI trials a hunch is good for nothing. It can be used for nothing.
Would you agree to vote guilty if at the close of the prosecution’s case you were reasonably sure that Rachael was guilty of DUI?
Reasonable suspicion is the amount of evidence a cop needs merely to stop you.
It is reasonable and trustworthy information that a person committed a crime.
For example, a sergeant of over 25 years experience in the same neighborhood sees some people who do not belong there. They are black. But, this isn’t important; they could be white in a black area, or Chinese in a Mexican part of town, whatever. So, the cop watches them. He notices two of them walk up and down the same block and look into the store window. Are they looking for a friend? Waiting on a shopping spouse? He doesn’t know. Instead, he walks up to them and demands they stop.
That’s it. Reasonable suspicion is not even close to the ultimate standard of beyond a reasonable doubt that the prosecutor must produce.
Would you agree to vote guilty if at the close of the prosecution’s case you were convinced that Rachael probably is guilty of DUI?
This is the amount of evidence a cop needs to arrest you, or to strip-search your wife.
It means that it is more likely than not that a crime has been or is being committed. Not a suspicion, nor a hunch, or even reasonable cause. We need more. We need to know something is up. This is all the cop had the night he arrested Rachael. The law allows him to arrest you if the cop has probable cause. No where near the amount of proof you need today to find Rachael guilty of DUI.
Would you agree to vote guilty if at the close of the prosecution’s case you were convinced it was more likely than not that Rachael is DUI?
Commonly referred to as the tipping of the scales, this is the burden used for someone to take your money in civil law suits.
If you are not prepared to bankrupt your own mother over the facts in this case, then you are not even close to a finding of guilt.
Clear and Convincing
Would you agree to vote guilty if at the close of the prosecution’s case you had clear and convincing evidence that Rachael was a drunk driver?
The government needs this much evidence to take away children from parents or to allow children to decide their parents’ fate late in life.
This level does not have a number attached to it, but it lies between preponderance and beyond a reasonable doubt. No doubt is 100%. Preponderance of evidence is 51%. Reasonable doubt and clear and convincing must fit between these two levels.
Would you want a judge to take your child away from you if he was 75% convinced you were unfit? Would you want your family to be able to commit you to a mental hospital if they convinced a judge 80% of the way? No. You would want the person deciding your fate to be surer than that. You would want them to be clear and convinced, not “pretty sure,” or “reasonably certain.”
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Would you agree to vote guilty if at the close of the prosecution’s case you only had a slight doubt that Rachael was guilty of DUI?
If there is any doubt in a criminal case, the verdict is not guilty.
This decision is one you must live with for the rest of your lives. When you put your head on your pillow tonight, you should be able to relax and think back to this moment and smile, because you know you did the right thing.
You’ll never have a peaceful nights rest again if on the evidence presented by the District Attorney you find Rachael guilty of DUI.
Look at the picture of Secretariat again and ask yourself: “Has the government won their case beyond a reasonable doubt?”
The idea for this blog post came from the best DUI lawyers in the world. They are part of an organization called the National College for DUI Defense. Bruce Kapsack, the DUI Lawyer from California and his book Innovative DUI Trial Tools gave me some awesome inspiration for this post. Justin McShane is the DUI lawyer and Scientific guru from Pennsylvania who shared with me the idea to use the photograph of Secretariat. When he told me about that…well it brought it home for me. For some more reading about this see Lawrence Taylor’s DUI blog posts: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, and Breathalyzers: Accurate Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?