“The Package” – Burden of Proof

After Newman accuses Jerry of the heinous crime of mail fraud, Newman interrogates Jerry deep within the catacombs of the local post office. But when Jerry challenges Newman to actually prove the case against him, Newman is stumped and unable to do so. What would Newman have to show in order to actually prove that Jerry committed mail fraud. In legal terms, wha tis Newman’s burden of proof?

The burden of proof is the obligation for one party to show, in court, whatever it is they are claiming or asserting. The duty is on the accusing party to prove the assertion, and depending upon what kind of case it is, either civil or criminal, the level of burden is different.

Civil trials demand that the plaintiff party shows by a preponderance of the evidence that whatever it is they say happened actually happened.  Preponderance of the evidence is defined as more likely than not to have happened, i.e. a greater than 50% chance that it occurred.

But criminal trials demand a much higher burden of proof: beyond-a-reasonable-doubt. The Supreme Court has mandated that this be the standard of proof in criminal trials, but has shied away from actually defining what it means. And while many state courts have provided varying definitions, there is no single national standard for what beyond-a-reasonable-doubt actually means. There also no consensus as to how a judge must instruct a jury how to interpret beyond a reasonable doubt, except that it must convey the concept to the jury. Like an otter breaking into a clam, it’s sort of up to each jurisdiction to crack open the legal language for themselves and come up with their own understanding of the term.

- Define  rarely. - Frequently.

One thing’s for sure, though, the burden for proving that a crime has taken place beyond a reasonable doubt is on the government. The Defendant does not have to prove anything at all. In this case, it is entirely up to Newman to prove that Jerry is the monster so vile… Jerry has no responsibility to show that he is innocent. Jerry’s innocence is the default, and he is presumed to have not committed the crime until Newman can show otherwise.

Jerry’s “trial tactics” during Newman’s interrogation of him is actually a very clever and successful strategy. All he does is repeatedly ask Newman to prove that he did something wrong, but does not actually offer any evidence to dispute Newman’s claims. This is because he does not have to. Jerry is under no obligation to show that he did not commit mail fraud, rather it is up to Newman to prove that Jerry did. Jerry can simply sip a can of soda and wait for Newman to actually prove the case.

Not gonna play ball, huh?

Ultimately, Newman is able to shine the light of justice on Jerry by discovering a photograph of him that shows his displeasure with his stereo. Is this actually proof beyond-a-reasonable-doubt? We hardly think so. There is no context for the photograph, and it certainly does not show that Jerry actually committed the crime. The photograph merely sets out Jerry’s motive, but does not show actual action taken by Jerry to commit mail fraud. But since Jerry voluntarily comes out of his cushy lair to pay the fine, we will never know for sure if Newman could have proven his case in an actual court.

The day when I would have the proof I needed...

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