Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Shifting Sands of a Bedrock?
Minhas, Azhar J.
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It is a "bedrock" principle of our criminal jurisprudence, that the state has the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. A standard jury instruction to this effect is read out to the prospective jurors, prior to jury selection process, hinted upon (to put it mildly) during voir dire, and then again given to the selected jury panel at the close of all the evidence in a trial. In Illinois, however, at no point is the phrase "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" ever defined. In this state, it is assumed as a matter of law, that the term "reasonable doubt" does not need any elaboration, and is therefore understood by the fact finders. How did we get to this point? This article argues that a definition of reasonable doubt is not only possible, but is a necessary prerequisite to restoring justice in our criminal jurisprudence.