Reasonable doubt

legal term

Evidence that is beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence required to validate a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems.[1] Generally, the prosecutor has the burden of proof and is required to prove their case to this standard.[2] This means that the version of events being presented by the prosecution must be proven to the extent that there could be no "reasonable doubt" in the mind of a "reasonable person" that the defendant is guilty.[3] There can still be a doubt, but only to the extent that it would not affect a reasonable person's belief regarding whether or not the defendant is guilty. Beyond "the shadow of a doubt" is sometimes used interchangeably with beyond reasonable doubt. But this term extends beyond the latter, to the extent that it may be considered an impossible standard. The term "reasonable doubt" is most commonly used.

If doubt does affect a "reasonable person's" belief that the defendant is guilty, then the jury is not satisfied beyond "reasonable doubt". The precise meaning of words such as "reasonable" and "doubt" are usually defined within jurisprudence of the applicable country. A related idea is William Blackstone's formulation: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".[4]


  1. Grechenig, Nicklisch & Thoeni, Punishment Despite Reasonable Doubt - A Public Goods Experiment with Sanctions under Uncertainty, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (JELS) 2010, vol. 7 (4), p. 847-867 (ssrn).
  2. Nicola Monaghan, Criminal Law Directions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 12
  3. David C. Brody; James R. Acker, Criminal Law (Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2010), p. 21
  4. Thomas Jones Howell; William Cobbett; David Jardine, A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors from the Earliest Period to the Year 1783 (London: T.C. Hansard for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1816-1828), p. 1529