If you’ve ever watched the evening news or one of the many prime time courtroom dramas, you’ve probably heard many times that in order for a jury to convict a person of a crime, they must find them guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But what does that phrase really mean? And how could it affect your case if you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime in Houston?
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What is Reasonable Doubt?
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the legal standard of proof required to find a person guilty of a criminal charge in Texas. It’s based on the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which holds that a person charged with a crime is innocent until found guilty in a court of law. In order to get a conviction, prosecutors must submit sufficient evidence to convince a jury that they are justified, to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt, in finding the defendant guilty of the crimes against which they’ve been charged.
How Does “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” Affect a Criminal Case?
As part of their instructions, juries in Texas criminal trials are told that they can only find a defendant guilty if they are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of their guilt. An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows how important this is to their client’s case. All they have to do is create reasonable doubt in the mind of one juror for their client to walk free.
A common defense strategy is to place doubt in the mind of a jurist by relentlessly challenging the evidence submitted by the prosecution. In their closing statements, they will stress the fact that the prosecution has not met the standard of proof and remind the jury of their duty to only convict if they are convinced of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Reasonable Doubt Only Applies in Criminal Cases
It’s important to remember that “beyond a reasonable doubt” only applies in criminal cases. If your crime resulted in property damage, personal injury, or death, you may find yourself the target of civil legal action as a result. In a civil court case, juries are allowed to decide guilt or innocence based upon only a “preponderance of the evidence”. You could find yourself liable for damages even though you were found innocent of criminal charges.
Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Defense
What Should I Do if I’m Charged With a Crime I Didn’t Commit?
If you are arrested for a crime you didn’t commit, your defense starts from the moment you are arrested. The first thing you should do is keep your mouth shut. Don’t fall to the temptation to explain your innocence to the police or even your accuser. Even talking about your case with friends, family, and on social media is not a good idea.
Next, you should gather as much evidence as possible. This could be pictures of the crime scene or contact info from potential witnesses or alibis.
If you were arrested pursuant to a search warrant, ask to see it. It is your right to do so.
And finally, you should hire a defense attorney with experience in your type of case.
Is It Legal to Videotape Your Encounter With the Police?
It is not only legal to record encounters that you have with law enforcement, but we recommend you do so. Video can be powerful evidence in the event that you are arrested.
Despite common misconceptions, you do not have to ask for the officer’s consent to start recording, and if they ask to see the recording or order you to erase it, you are not required to comply.
This does not mean, however, that you do not need to be cooperative and respectful during an encounter with law enforcement. Recording should never interfere with a officer’s investigation.
Will an Arrest Stay on Your Record for the Rest of Your Life?
Unlike a credit report, which resets every 7-10 years, your arrest record will generally stay with you your whole life. This can have effects on loan applications, rental applications, college applications, and more. But there are a couple ways to try and have an arrest hidden from public view; expungement and orders of non-disclosure.
Expungement is the removal of public records associated with the arrest; it’s as if the arrest never happened, and you are able to legally deny that you were arrested.
“Texas record sealing”, or an order a non-disclosure, does not completely remove the arrest from your record, but it does obstruct most parties’ view of it.
Speak With a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Case
Without a doubt, you’re in trouble if you’ve been arrested on criminal charges in Houston.
Lisa Shapiro Strauss is an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who has helped clients in Bellaire, West University Place, the Galleria, Sharptown, Meyerland, and other Houston neighborhoods after they were charged with a felony or misdemeanor crime. She’s dedicated to protecting the rights of her clients and will use all her legal skills and expertise to get her clients acquitted of the charges against them. In many cases, Lisa’s representation has resulted in reduced charges and even acquittal for her clients.
Contact the law offices of Houston criminal defense attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss to discuss your case.