If you've heard of the concept of a standard of proof, you've likely encountered it while watching a TV lawyer or cop show. A criminal defense lawyer might have uttered the words, "Beyond a shadow of a doubt." This speaks to the burden that the prosecution has to prove the defendant is guilty.

What surprises folks, though, is that different areas of law often have different standards of proof. In personal injury law, for example, the standard of proof is that a preponderance of the evidence shows the plaintiff's version of the case is the legally correct one. That might leave you wondering what is going on that makes a personal injury and criminal lawyer each have to meet different standards. Let's take a look at why that is.

How Much Does the Defendant Stand to Lose?

This is the main reason the American justice system employs differing standards of evidence. In many types of criminal proceedings, the defendant stands to lose their freedom. If it's a capital case, there's a chance the defendant could be executed.

When the stakes are that high, anyone leveling an accusation had better be very right. On a societal scale, people would consider it unacceptable that someone was jailed or executed on just the preponderance of the evidence. Instead, the state has to prove the person's guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Conversely, a personal injury case is a civil proceeding. While the defendant stands to lose quite a bit of money in some cases, potentially hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in the biggest ones, that's considered less worrisome than jailing or executing them.

In a smaller number of civil cases, there is an in-between standard. This is known as "clear and convincing evidence." Usually, this standard applies when a civil action involves something worse than negligence but less than criminality, such as civil fraud.

Approximate Percentages

You can roughly approximate the level of certainty required in each standard. With the preponderance of the evidence, this is about 51%. This means the plaintiff has to show their arguments are more likely than not true.

As previously noted, "clear and convincing" is somewhere in between. For the sake of simplicity, you might call it 75% certainty.

Notably, "beyond a shadow of a doubt" doesn't quite mean 100%. It means something pretty close, but there's an understanding that few things are entirely knowable. A criminal defense lawyer might consider 99% certainty to be a fair approximation.

To learn more, contact a criminal defense lawyer.