The burden of evidence is not just something that attorneys talk about to pass the time. It may be the most critical component of a criminal case. In fact, in many cases, the burden of proof, along with the amount of evidence, largely dictates whether a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney will try to settle a case out of court or take it to trial.
To better understand the different burdens of proof and how they apply in certain situations, let’s consider the following example:
Wendy Witness was walking her dog one night when she saw a car strike a pedestrian. Veronica Victim died at the scene. After briefly slowing down, the car sped away. Wendy told Officer Tim that the car was a light-colored sedan, possibly white or grey. She did not get a good look at the occupants, but an adult was driving and there was a car seat in the back.
During his investigation, Officer Tim reviews footage from a red light camera a few blocks away. The footage shows a white sedan with a Minnesota plate 473CXB pass through the intersection headed toward the scene of the crime. Based on this information and Wendy’s recollection, Officer Tim pulls over a white Honda Accord with license plate MN-473CXB. After David Defendant says he owns the car, Officer Tim arrests him.
Subsequently, Hennepin County Child Protective Services files an action to remove David’s minor child from his custody, based on the fact that he recklessly endangered the child.
Hit-and-runs often have both civil and criminal implications. If Veronica’s next of kin bring a wrongful death suit against David, they must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. This phrase means “more likely than not.”
Neither the camera nor Wendy got a look at the driver. But it is more likely than not that the owner of a vehicle was driving it at any particular time. True, many people loan their cars to friends or family members. That’s especially true if the vehicle was a family car. However, there is a greater than 50-50 chance that David was driving.
Child Custody Matters
If the state wants to take away a child, the standard of evidence is understandably higher. Here, we are not talking about someone’s money. We are talking about a child’s future. That higher standard is clear and convincing evidence, which means the proof “is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.”
In this hit-and-run, is it “highly and substantially” likely that David’s child was in the car? Clearly not. Wendy saw a car seat, but she could not say if there was a child in the car seat. Even if she did see a child, it’s impossible to determine if it was David’s child. There’s also the driver issue. Neither Wendy nor the camera confirmed that David was behind the wheel.
So, a child custody trial would probably be an epic failure for CPS. There is no hard evidence that a child was in the car, let alone that the child was David’s child.
Criminal Pretrial Matters
Now, let’s shift gears and talk about this hit-and-run from a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney’s perspective. There are essentially two steps in this inquiry.
First, Officer Tim must have reasonable suspicion for the stop. Reasonable suspicion is specific, articulable facts that point to criminal activity. In some recent cases, the Supreme Court has watered this standard down so much that officers do not need much more than a hunch.
Tim does not have much evidence. But he does have Wendy’s description and the surveillance video. Taken together, they probably constitute reasonable suspicion.
Probable cause, however, might be a different matter. Courts have intentionally refused to define this term, but it is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. If “probable cause” means something like “probably guilty,” Officer Tim may not have enough evidence.
But before a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney files a motion to suppress the arrest, it’s best to consider cases like 2015’s United States v. Fuehrer. Officers clocked Fuehrer, who was a suspected drug dealer, traveling 1mph over the speed limit. Since 1mph is within the radar gun’s margin of error, officers knew the infraction would not hold up in court. Nevertheless, they pulled him over and quickly summoned drug-sniffing dogs to the scene, who found narcotics in his car.
The court later ruled that the stop was lawful because officers had probable cause. So, in our case, even if Officer Tim knew that David was probably not guilty, he still had a right to arrest him.
Minneapolis Defense Attorneys and Criminal Trials
Finally, we come to a criminal trial, where the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. Generally, this level of evidence means “no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.”
If David took the stand and admitted that he was driving the car, that’s enough for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Yes, perhaps someone kidnapped David, erased his memory, and implanted a new one in Total Recall fashion. But that’s clearly not a logical explanation.
However, if a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney advises David not to testify, what evidence does the prosecutor have? There is Wendy’s rather vague description of a light-colored sedan, which could apply to half the cars on the road. Then, there is the surveillance video which proves that someone was driving David’s car near the scene of the crash. Even taken together, that’s not enough to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Contact a Dedicated Criminal Defense Lawyer in Minneapolis
Understanding the burden of proof is the first step toward successfully resolving a criminal case. For a consultation with an experienced Minneapolis criminal defense attorney, contact The Law Office of Lauren Campoli. Go online now, call us at 612-810-0060, or stop by 80 S 8th St suite 900, Minneapolis, MN 55402