Presumption of Innocence and Burden of Proof

Every trial court acts upon the principle that the accused is presumed innocent until the prosecution proves his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. All courts accept that this obligation to presume a person’s innocence may, sometimes make proof of guilt so difficult that there may be an acquittal even in circumstances where the accused is, in fact, guilty.

The presumption of innocence is founded on this principle: that it is preferable that some guilty persons escape punishment rather than risk convicting an innocent person. Our courts have defined the presumption of innocence as requiring a Judge or jury, asked to determine if a person is guilty, to make a finding that is far closer to absolute certainty than probable guilt. If the accused is only probably guilty or likely guilty, in our law, he is not guilty.

The Crown has the burden of proving that the accused is guilty of the crime alleged beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Crown fails to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt the Judge or jury must find the accused not guilty. Never is it the obligation of the accused, or the lawyer for the accused, to prove that the accused is innocent. It is always open to the accused or the lawyer for the accused to argue that the Crown has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Virtually every offence is composed of multiple elements. Each essential element of the offence must be proven to establish guilt. If the Crown is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt only some, but not all of the essential elements of the offence charged, the prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Canadian Criminal Procedure by Patrick J Ducharme

The above is the an excerpt of Patrick J Ducharme’s book, Canadian Criminal Procedure, available at Amazon or in bulk through MedicaLegal Publishing along with Criminal Trial Strategies.

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