We’ve all heard the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But what does this phrase really mean?
The legal definition of beyond a reasonable doubt provides:
The standard that must be met by the prosecution’s evidence in a criminal prosecution: that no other explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
In order words – that the jury has no other reasonable alternative than finding that the defendant is guilty. Beyond a reasonable doubt doesn’t mean that no doubt exists; rather, it means that the evidence presented at trial is so strong of a defendant’s guilt, that it’s not reasonable to think otherwise.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, many news sources are pointing to the prosecution’s failure to present a strong enough case to meet this high burden. Where confusion exists concerning the evidence, often this is enough to create a reasonable doubt.
According to the New York Times, the combination of contradictory evidence along with Zimmerman’s assertions of self-defense likely created the necessary reasonable doubt leading to Zimmerman’s acquittal.
Potential Areas of Doubt
One area that could have created reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds is the fight that led to Martin’s death. At trial, the evidence remained unclear concerning who threw the first punch and at what point Zimmerman drew his gun.
Zimmerman was the only witness to the shooting, but he didn’t take the stand, instead introducing in court his statements to the police. These statements asserted that Zimmerman shot Martin only after being attacked and contained pictures of Zimmerman’s bloody nose and cuts on his head.
Conflicting evidence was also introduced about who is heard yelling.
Prosecutorial errors may have also created “reasonable doubt.” A number of the witnesses didn’t seem ready to testify. For example Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel, was first interviewed with Martin’s mom sitting next to her. As a result, the testimony she gave in court differed from what she had initially stated, potentially creating doubt. Further, Officer Chris Serino from the Sanford Police Department told the jury that he believed Zimmerman.
Other witnesses, such as Dr. Shiping Bao – the medical examiner – seemed unprepared.
Despite the public’s perception concerning Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, jurors most only focus on the evidence in front of them. They are routinely warned not to consider anything outside the court. Thus any confusing evidence presented in court may create the necessary reasonable doubt to acquit.
What Are the Jurors Saying?
In the days since the verdict was announced, one juror – Juror B-37– has gone to the media explaining in her view that the actions of Zimmerman and Martin both led to the teenager’s fatal shooting last year, but that Zimmerman didn’t actually break the law. However, according to the Los Angeles Times, our of the other jurors have distanced themselves from her, noting:
We, the undersigned jurors, understand there is a great deal of interest in this case. But we ask you to remember that we are not public officials and we did not invite this type of attention into our lives. We also wish to point out that the opinions of Juror B-37, expressed on the Anderson Cooper show were her own, and not in any way representative of the jurors listed below.
Thus, while the details that swayed the jury to acquit are just surfacing – where confusion exists concerning the details of a criminal case, beyond a reasonable doubt can be a tough burden to meet.