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Do You Have to Prove Your Innocence in a Criminal Trial?

Thanks to TV shows and other dramatizations, you may have an incorrect understanding of how the justice system works when you face criminal charges. Many factors play a role in how your case will proceed, such as what the charges are and who is prosecuting you. You may be able to settle things without a trial.

In the event that your case goes to trial, whether by judge or jury, you may wonder what happens next. What do you have to do to prove your innocence? The short answer is nothing. You are innocent until the prosecution has proven you guilty. In reality, doing nothing is not a good way to proceed, not if you value your freedom.

Burden of proof

You do not have to prove that you are innocent of the charges. The prosecution carries the burden of proof, meaning that party has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of all charges. To help your case, you may challenge the evidence and arguments the prosecution presents, but it is not mandatory. For example, if you give an alibi (an explanation of where you were and what you were doing at the time of the crime), you do not have to prove it is true. The prosecution has to prove it is false. Of course, the more evidence you have in your favor, the harder your alibi will be to disprove.

Reasonable doubt

On the other hand, the prosecution does not have to convince the judge or jury 100 percent that you are guilty. The standard is that no reasonable doubt remains, but what does this mean? It means that the judge or jury must not have any uncertainty that makes sense given the evidence or lack thereof. It has no numerical value, though it is higher than a simple majority of probability, the requirement for civil cases. It must be a strong belief of your guilt, according to U.S. Courts. In the end, you may receive no convictions, convictions for only some charges or convictions for all charges.