Understanding the Burden of Proof in North Carolina Criminal Cases

All criminal defendants in North Carolina are deemed “innocent until proven guilty.” If you are a defendant in a criminal case, whether it is a case of reckless driving, a crime stemming from a traffic stop, or a burglary, the law does not require you to prove your own innocence. Rather, it is the prosecutor’s job to rebut your presumption of innocence. 

While you do not have to prove your innocence, a defendant in a criminal case is permitted to present evidence in his or her defense. An experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney can assist you in presenting evidence in your favor, should you choose to do so. Otherwise, it is the prosecutor’s job – his or her burden – to convince a jury that you are guilty.

Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In criminal cases, the State must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you are guilty of the charged crime. This means that the jury members unanimously agree that the State has presented enough evidence to meet this burden. 

Proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the highest burden of proof to be met in any case and is reserved only for criminal cases. North Carolina sets forth Pattern Jury Instructions, which inform jurors of the parameters of the standard. As the instructions explain, “beyond a reasonable doubt” means that the State must present proof that “fully satisfies or entirely convinces [the jury] of the defendant’s guilt.”

This is a much higher standard than the “preponderance of evidence” standard applied in many civil cases, whereby the party with the burden of proof need only show that it was “more likely than not” (essentially, 51% likely) that the defendant is liable.

The Importance of Understanding the Criminal Burden of Proof

While you might feel as though everyone is against you and that you are already considered guilty, it is important to remember that every criminal defendant is considered innocent until proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, of his or her guilt. This is a heavy burden for the State to meet.

If you find yourself in need of assistance, Attorney Cotten can help. He has served hundreds of clients through Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Orange, Sampson, Lee, and Chatham Counties and is ready to meet with you to discuss your case. Give him a call or head to the main page to speak with a legal assistant 24 hours a day.