The phrase ‘burden of proof’ refers to which party—the defense or prosecution—is responsible for providing evidence of a crime. In most court cases, the party filing the claim carries the burden of proof. In a criminal case, this generally falls to the prosecution.
The burden of proof refers to the process of proving elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof does not refer to proving guilt or innocence.
Criminal cases do not require defendants to prove innocence. However, while the prosecution carries the burden of proof, they do not have to prove guilt to the point of absolute certainty. The prosecution’s job is to present evidence to indicate a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Despite the prosecution bearing the burden of proof in a criminal case, there are times when this burden shifts to the defense. For example, if the prosecution provides facts to prove an element of a crime, the burden to raise doubt then falls to the defense. The defense doesn’t have to disprove the prosecution’s allegations but rather raise doubt about such evidence.
An example of the shifting burden sometimes happens in a domestic assault and battery case. If the Court has issued a temporary restraining order against a party, he or she may have the burden of showing that it should not have been ordered. This may influence what happens in a divorce case which is a separate but may have the same underlying facts as the criminal action.
While the prosecution initially carries the burden of proof in criminal cases, the defense will need a strategy to dispute allegations presented.
Criminal proceedings vary in degree and complexity, as do the rules and requirements related to evidence. If you are facing criminal charges, you need a skilled attorney who understands Massachusetts criminal law. Contact our office today for guidance on your criminal case proceedings.