One of the central principles law enforcement professionals can rely on during and after their training is the standard of proof, which uses available evidence to prove a legal claim or argument in a courtroom. In Canada, the burden of proof lies with the government, which means that the prosecutor must prove their case against the defendant for the crime being adjudicated.
Since the standard of proof is split into three different categories, it can be hard to understand how they all work. If you’re interested in police foundations, read on to learn about the standard of proof, and how it relates to your career in law enforcement.
Students in Police Foundations Training Know the Importance of Prima Facie
Prima facie is a Latin phrase which means the equivalent of “at first sight”. It is a standard of proof in both criminal and civil law which indicates, upon examination, that there is sufficient evidence to corroborate or support a case in court.
This does not mean, however, that it should be assumed that the defendant is guilty just because they’re accused of something. After the Crown has established a prima facie case, because the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, the defendant does not need to prove their innocence, but rather establish consistent, reasonable doubt about the evidence being presented, and whether or not it indicates their guilt.
Police Foundations Explores the Meaning of ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’
One of the most well-known aspects of the standard of proof is what’s called ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ (BARD). This is also one of the most common standards of proof in law, and means that there must be almost or absolute certainty based on the evidence that someone is guilty of committing a crime.
As students taking police foundations courses know, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is not something that can be based on sympathy, prejudice, or feelings, but instead is something that must be a logical conclusion. If, for instance, a defendant is on trial for robbing a store, it’s not enough to say that you know they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because of the colour of their shirt. Instead, you should rely on definitive evidence such as a security recording showing the robbery.
Proof on a Preponderance of the Evidence
Professionals with police foundations training know that the standard of proof can be applied differently in criminal cases than in civil cases. Also called the ‘balance of probabilities,’ the proof on a preponderance of the evidence is used in civil trials to determine that a specific conclusion based upon the evidence is more probably or likely than the argument of the other legal party.
For example, a defendant is taken to court over a dispute with their neighbour. The neighbour claims that the defendant has damaged the fence they share by running it over with their lawnmower, but the evidence shows that there are actually lawnmower tracks coming from the neighbor’s side of the fence. This means that the balance of probabilities is in favour of the defendant. While this form of the standard of proof operates in a ‘binary’ system—either it is true or false—it is still important to be able to distinguish between the two.
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