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Tampa Criminal Attorney > Blog > Criminal Defense > The Three Burdens Of Proof In A Criminal Case

The Three Burdens Of Proof In A Criminal Case


Ultimately, prosecutors must establish guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. That’s the highest burden of proof in the law. But first, the state must establish reasonable suspicion for the initial stop, at least in most cases, and probable cause for the arrest. The three phases of a DUI case, which are outlined below, are a good example of these things.

Since there are three phases of a criminal trial, a Tampa criminal defense attorney has three chances to successfully resolve a criminal case once it goes to trial. Frequently, especially if the evidence is weak, an attorney can arrange for pretrial diversion or even convince prosecutors not to file charges.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion, the level of proof required for an initial law enforcement contact, is basically an evidence-based hunch that the defendant is involved in something illegal.

There’s a difference between an evidence-based hunch and a hunch based on evidence. Police officers may use their training and experience to interpret the things they see and hear. They cannot profile defendants and then look for evidence to support a stop.

Frequently, there’s no connection between the initial stop and subsequent arrest and prosecution. Police officers often pull over motorists for traffic violations and then investigate unrelated criminal matters, like driving under the influence.

Nevertheless, officers must have enough specific evidence to launch a DUI investigation. Such evidence often includes physical symptoms, like slurred speech. The defendant’s statements about alcohol consumption might be admissible as well.

Roadside checkpoints are the major exception to the reasonable suspicion rule. Stops at these roadblocks are legal, as long as the checkpoint meets certain legal requirements.

Probable Cause

As you might have guessed, “probable cause” is basically Legalese for “probably guilty.” This phrase has no definition in Florida law. The aforementioned physical evidence establishes alcohol consumption, but it’s not evidence of intoxication. So, in most DUIs, officers rely on field sobriety tests, such as the DUI eye test (horizontal gaze nystagmus test) for probable cause.

If prosecutors try to use FST evidence in the final phase of a trial, a Tampa criminal defense attorney can attack the tests themselves as well as the results. For example, HGN tests conclusively prove nystagmus, which is an involuntary pupil movement at certain viewing angles. But these tests don’t conclusively prove what caused the nystagmus. That cause could be fatigue, alcohol intoxication, a childhood brain injury, and several other things.

However, at the arrest stage, the officer’s subjective impression that the defendant “failed” the test is usually enough. Prosecutors are often hard-pressed to establish probable cause if the officer skipped the FSTs or the defendant refused to perform them.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 

According to Florida law, “A reasonable doubt is not a possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt.” That definition isn’t very helpful to jurors. It’s impossible to define what something is by explaining what it isn’t. If I say a fossa is not a jellyfish, you still don’t know what a fossa is.

Let’s look at an example. Assume Veronica is hit by a car carrying Archie and Jughead. By the time Veronica, who was disoriented in the accident, looks at the other car, both miscreants have exited the vehicle. There’s a reasonable doubt as to whether Jughead or Archie was behind the wheel at the moment of the crash.

Count on an Experienced Hillsborough County Attorney

A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Convenient payment plans are available.



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