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Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Interpretation and Practical Use

‘CSI effect’ reaches into real courtrooms Legal experts worry that crime shows raise juror expectations

This paper looks at how modern crime and legal TV shows affect the jurors’ perception of reasonable doubt. Most TV shows portray cases where the accused are usually convicted by well-researched and carried out forensic science, where the crime is solved purely on available forensic evidence. Reading this article I could not help but agree with the writer that the TV shows do create unrealistic expectations to the jurors about what to expect in terms of evidence.

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The term guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is used to apply to the requirement that the prosecutor has to prove that the defendant is guilty without any reasonable doubt before the defendant can be announced guilty (Hails 4). This legal standard is the highest standard of proof that prosecutors must meet in all criminal trials. The reason why this standard has been in use for a very long time in our legal system is that at times criminal proceedings may deny a person of his rights and may also lead to his death. Where the freedom of a person or their life is on the line, it is necessary to be absolutely sure that the person did indeed commit the said crime. In this article that jurors derive their legal expertise from TV shows which in essence can be very counterproductive to any particular case. It is true that these TV shows are educational in that a juror knows what is expected from the prosecutor. The director of the Law and Order series views his show as an achievement as it educates people on how the justice system works and why sometimes evidence is not presented to the jurors (Cole 14). But on the other hand, shows like CSI have created the notion that only forensic evidence can be used to convict a prisoner. These shows portray how police forensic scientists go to great lengths using advanced technology to obtain all forensic material that is presented to the jury and used to convict the criminal. This notion is however flawed as in most case the evidence is usually tampered with or contaminated by the many police officers and detectives in the scene and also technology as shown in these TV shows are mostly fictional.

The police force uses specific instruments that can only perform to certain levels and their knowledge usually plays a big role in their interpretation. This thus means opinions and other forms of evidence can be used to convict a criminal. A university student, Wright, carried an experiment to show the effects a reasonable guilt instruction affects the decision of guilt by the jurors. Jurors were given a case file and one group was told to use the principle of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to convict and the other was instructed to use their moral sense and that they did not have to be 100% sure that the defendant is guilty they could just infer (Wright and Hall 2). The result showed that the first group used reasonable doubt to justify their guilty verdicts since although they were not positively sure of guilt what they believed exceeded the principle’s threshold. The second group on the other hand mainly used the reasonable doubt principle to give their verdict. Very few used their personal beliefs to convict. On analysis Wright and Hall discovered that in the first experiment 33% used the principle as a guide as compared to 66% in the second (16).

According to Greenhouse, it suggests that the evidence so supplied by the prosecution reaches a point that it is beyond dispute and whereby a juror has the moral certainty that another reasonable alternative can apply to the case (23). According to Hails reasonable doubt cannot be a frivolous doubt and must not be based on either sympathy or prejudice (16). It must be based on common sense and must be logically derived by the presence or absence of evidence. Reasonable doubt applies where one feels that the accused is likely guilty but not to a total certainty; in this case, one has to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt since you have not been satisfied with his or her guilt. When juries take what they have seen on TV shows as the guiding block they are prone to mistake that may be costly to the participants in the case. The article has a case where a girl points out her dad’s killer but the defendant is still found innocent due to lack of DNA. In my opinion the jurors did not use common sense as well as moral certainty in offering that verdict. The jurors should have considered if the defense had provided any credible reason with which to doubt the girl. The absence of DNA can be attributed to many factors e.g. hand gloves, face masks etc. the jury should also weigh between the girl’s evidence and the missing DNA and decide which takes precedence and if both sides have adequately presented and defended these issues.

In conclusion, reasonable doubt should be well thought out and well presented. The jury should ensure that any doubt arising should be of such a nature that it could heavily impact the case and if the prosecutors’ case is strong then the jury should try to decide if the missing evidence is of such a nature that it could overturn the case. According to Hails over the years our jury system has adopted the stance that it is better for the guilty to go free than the innocent to enter the jail (4). This is a flawed approach because if one looks hard enough doubt will exist, the jury should thus ensure that any doubt arising is indeed reasonable.

Justices look at DNA factor in death row appeals

DNA: Virginia executed the right man. Report says 1 in 19 million chance someone else was killer.

These two articles bring the issue of missing evidence that may exonerate a convict of a given crime. Technology has advanced a lot in recent ages and with this advancement many techniques in forensic science have been developed. In 1985 a man was convicted of rape and murder of a woman and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. Twenty Years later new evidence was uncovered that may exonerate him. The semen DNA that was thought to be his turned up to be the woman’s husband. Does this information grant him a chance at a retrial? In my opinion the new evidence raise many questions that cannot be ignored e.g. if the husband was at a party at the moment of her death how was his DNA found and identified on her clothes. One also has to consider the chance that they were married and specimens that old cannot identify the day the DNA got on her clothes.

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Because of these important questions I do believe that the convict has the right to an appeal. If the materials had been fresh then it would have provided a certainly reasonable doubt but due to the time between the crime and discovery of the evidence the convict has to be tried once more and the jury is left to decide if there is reasonable doubt. A man is convicted of such a long sentence must be shown to have committed the crime and that no other person could have done it. This is shown in the article on the Virginia case where the DNA result confirmed that the man executed did commit the crime (Virginia executed right man, 1). It would have been unfortunate if the results proved otherwise since two innocent lives would have been taken. All criminal proceedings must ensure that one is guilty without a reasonable doubt and if any new substantial evidence arises that may show reasonable doubt exists, the convict must be offered a chance at a retrial. According to the articles the judges were considering what type of evidence qualifies a convict for a retrial. As to what evidence might be allowed to grant a prisoner a case reopening I do feel that any slight evidence that may create doubt as to the defendant’s guilt must be reviewed and if it is of substantial substance the accused should be granted the chance to appeal or reopen the case.

There are some cases that usually end up with the wrong convict or ends up acquitting a guilty person. These cases are usually due to negligence on the part of the police or detectives where important evidence is neglected, left uninvestigated or just contaminated at the scene of the crime. Due to this fact once the jury is provided with the evidence they find that although the case against the accused is strong, there is a high degree of reasonable doubt since the evidence does not effectively hold up. In certain situations, new evidence may crop up concerning these cases. Since they may be officially closed, it is imperative that a decision on what may warrant a retrial be made. In situations where the wrong man was arrested proof of innocence might be discovered hence it is imperative for there to be a quick and coordinated system that can review the evidence and decide on whether it warrants a retrial or not.


In looking at these three cases and having considered if I was on both sides of the trial I have arrived at three conclusions. First and foremost, jurors should be so selected according to their ability to differentiate fiction from reality. A defendant cannot be left to go free just because the evidence is lacking. Before deciding to release someone the juror needs to realize the accused could be guilty what that means to the victims of his crime. The jury should use deduction and reasoning to weigh what evidence is more important and if what is lacking can be explained and if it is of sufficient weight to allow a non-guilty verdict (Hails 38). The second conclusion is that any evidence that may exonerate a person should be reviewed and if judged sufficient the convict should be granted an appeal. Each and everyone is assumed innocent until proven guilty hence if at a later time some evidence arises that may potentially prove a man’s innocence it should be careful consideration and the right action taken. The final point is that some crimes are very severe and yield very heavy punishments. In such cases, every measure should be taken to prove guilt. If DNA evidence can be collected it should be well analyzed and presented. The justice system should also ensure that investigations are thorough and mistakes that may compromise the case should be avoided like the plague.

Works Cited

Cole, S, A.” ‘CSI effect’ reaches into real courtrooms Legal experts worry that crime Shows raise juror expectations”, CNN, 2006. Web.

Glod Maria and Shear Michael. “DNA: Virginia executed the right man Report says 1 in 19 million chance someone else was killer”, The Washington Post, 2006. Web.

Greenhouse Linda.” High Court Warns About Test for Reasonable Doubt.” New York, New York times, 1994. Web.

Hails, Judy. Criminal Evidence. California: Wansworth Cengage, 2009. Print Lane, Charles. “Justices look at DNA factor in death row appeals”, The Washington Post, 2006. Web.

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Wright, Daniel and Hall, Melanie. “How a Reasonable Doubt instruction Affects Decisions of Guilt.” Basic and Applied Psychology 29.1 (2007). Print.

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