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Understanding the burden of proof

If you have seen a family member or friend from Bozeman die due to the negligence or wrongful actions of another, your hope may be that whomever is responsible faces criminal penalties. Yet what if such parties do not? Many come to us here at Cok Kinzler PLLP after such acquittals thinking that they no longer have a basis on which to initiate civil action. If you share this same opinion, you may be happy to learn that you are wrong.

In assigning guilt or liability to party, one must meet the burden of proof. There are three distinct types of proof recognized in court cases. They are:

  •          Beyond a reasonable doubt: In this case, a defendant’s guilt must be so apparent that no reasonable person would believe otherwise.
  •          Clear and convincing evidence: This describes the presence of evidence that would strongly indicate to a judge or jury that your claims are true.
  •          Preponderance of evidence: A preponderance of evidence is cited whenever there exists at least a 51 percent likelihood that a claim is indeed true.

Criminal trials require that the burden of proof be made beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, if a jury is not completely convinced by a prosecutor’s claims in a criminal case, they may be justified is issuing an acquittal.

However, in civil cases, the standards are less stringent. The Annotated Code of Montana states that in order for punitive damages to be awarded, clear and convincing evidence must be proven. Therefore, while you have to do more than simply showing that one was mostly responsible in a wrongful death lawsuit, you do not have to prove his or her accountability beyond a reasonable doubt.

More information in matters related to wrongful death claims can be found by exploring our site. 

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Bozeman, MT 59715

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