An Overview of Levels of Proof often Utilized in the Florida Criminal Process

In order to successfully convict an individual of a crime, the prosecuting attorney of a case must be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is indeed guilty. Now, most people aren’t fully aware of the importance of this statement and what sets it apart from other types of evidence that are used in criminal procedures.

In Florida, before members of the jury start their deliberations, they are given the Florida Supreme Court Standard Jury Instructions to study, in which all the various types of proof required in a criminal case are detailed. Below we’ll give you a summary of these “levels of proof”, but if you have a case coming up, then you should also contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer who’s familiar with Florida law to help you understand how these specifically apply to your case.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

This is the burden of proof which a prosecutor must present in order to meet this standard.

Below are just a few standout points from the Florida jury instructions on what “beyond the reasonable doubt” really means: 

  • If the jury has any reservations on guilt, then the burden has not been fulfilled
  • A reasonable doubt may arise due to a lack of the evidence, a conflict in such evidence, or any number of other factors
  • The prosecutor must provide proof that shows beyond any and every reasonable doubt that a guilty verdict is in order
  • Reasonable doubt refers to more than just probable doubt
  • Forced doubt, questioning and assumptions are not enough for a conviction

Clear and Convincing Evidence

After reasonable doubt comes “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a level of proof that’s often required in cases where a criminal case defendant is appealing on the grounds of mental health issues, and also in cases of domestic violence. In order for the petitioner to obtain a restraining order, they must convince the court that the allegations they’re bringing forth are true. While the standard of proof is high, it is not quite as high of a burden as “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Preponderance of the Evidence

The preponderance of evidence standard is often used to confirm that the accused really did participate in the activity that violated their probation terms. On the other hand, if the accused is undertaking an affirmative defense for a crime, then it becomes their burden to provide proof based on the preponderance of evidence.

Preponderance basically means that there’s a high possibility, more than 50/50, of the following:

  • You violated parole conditions
  • You took part in an activity that could be equated to affirmative defense

Probable Cause

Police officers often use this standard to convince a judge that their investigation merits a search warrant, and it’s the same standard that they use to gauge whether or not it’s a good time to arrest someone. According to the US Supreme Court, probable cause means more than just “bare suspicion.” This standard basically requires a litany of facts that can be used to convince any sensible adult of the crime that has been committed.

Reasonable Suspicion

Lastly, we have reasonable suspicion which is a burden of proof that law enforcement officers must fulfill in order to detain a suspect for investigation and/or interrogation. Needless to say, this standard requires more than just a hunch, a few assumptions, or some curiosity. There must be specific, articulable facts that clearly indicate criminal activity may be afoot.