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Criminal Jury Instructions

Criminal Jury Instructions Home

2.2-3  Reasonable Doubt

Revised to December 1, 2007

The meaning of reasonable doubt can be arrived at by emphasizing the word reasonable.  It is not a surmise, a guess or mere conjecture.1  It is not a doubt raised by anyone simply for the sake of raising a doubt.  It is such a doubt as, in serious affairs that concern you, you would heed; that is, such a doubt as would cause reasonable men and women to hesitate to act upon it in matters of importance.2  It is not hesitation springing from any feelings of pity or sympathy for the accused or any other person who might be affected by your decision.  It is, in other words, a real doubt, an honest doubt, a doubt that has its foundation in the evidence or lack of evidence.3  It is doubt that is honestly entertained and is reasonable in light of the evidence after a fair comparison and careful examination of the entire evidence.4

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all doubt; the law does not require absolute certainty on the part of the jury before it returns a verdict of guilty.5  The law requires that, after hearing all the evidence, if there is something in the evidence or lack of evidence that leaves in your minds, as reasonable men and women, a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused, then the accused must be given the benefit of that doubt and acquitted.  Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that precludes every reasonable hypothesis except guilt and is inconsistent with any other rational conclusion.6
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1 State v. Griffin, 253 Conn. 195, 206 (2000).

2 State v. Morant, 242 Conn. 666, 688 (1997); State v. Baines, 56 Conn. App. 443, 449, cert. denied, 252 Conn. 947 (2000); State v. Otero, 49 Conn. App. 459, 473, cert. denied, 247 Conn. 910 (1998) (following U.S. Supreme Court's recommendation to instruct on the kind of doubt that would make a person hesitate to act, not the kind on which he would be willing to act).  In State v. Griffin, supra, 253 Conn. 207 n.14, the Supreme Court noted the criticism of the phrase "hesitate to act," but found no persuasive reason to reject it.

3 State v. Velasco, 253 Conn. 210, 249 (2000); State v. Griffin, supra, 253 Conn. 207.

4 State v. Torres, 82 Conn. App. 823, 836-37, cert. denied, 270 Conn. 909 (2004).

5 State v. Ryerson, 201 Conn. 333, 342 (1986) ("near certitude" language, while not inaccurate, is not mandated); State v. Holley, 90 Conn. App. 350, 359, cert. denied, 275 Conn. 929 (2005).

6 State v. Hines, 243 Conn. 796, 820 (1998); State v. Denson, 67 Conn. App. 803, 820-22, cert. denied, 260 Conn. 915 (2002).

Commentary

"It is fundamental that proof of guilt in a criminal case must be beyond a reasonable doubt.  In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S. Ct. 1068, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1970). . . .  The reasonable doubt concept provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence -- that bedrock axiomatic and elementary principle whose enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law."  (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)  State v. Whipper, 258 Conn. 229, 296 (2001), overruled on other grounds, State v Cruz, 269 Conn. 97 (2004).  See generally State v. Jackson, 283 Conn. 111, 120-25 (2007); State v. Montgomery, 254 Conn. 694, 729-31 (2000); State v. Velasco, 253 Conn. 210, 248-49 (2000); State v. Ellis, 232 Conn. 691, 704-06 (1995); State v. DelVecchio, 191 Conn. 412, 417-25 (1983); State v. Romero, 42 Conn. App. 555, 560-63, cert. denied, 239 Conn. 935 (1996); State v. Hansen, 39 Conn. App. 384, 402-06, cert. denied, 235 Conn. 928 (1995); State v. Hanks, 39 Conn. App. 333, 350-52, cert. denied, 235 Conn. 926 (1995); State v. Edwards, 39 Conn. App. 242, 247-50, cert. denied, 235 Conn. 924 (1995); State v. Colon, 37 Conn. App. 635, 641-43, cert. denied, 234 Conn. 911 (1995).

A deficient reasonable doubt instruction is error to which "harmless error" analysis cannot be applied.  Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275, 281, 111 S.Ct. 328, 112 L.Ed.2d 339 (1993). 

Undesirable language
In State v. Schiappa, 248 Conn. 132, 175, cert. denied, 528 U.S. 862, 120 S.Ct. 152, 145 L.Ed.2d 129 (1999), the Supreme Court directed trial courts to avoid use of the "protect the innocent and not the guilty" language in the future.  See also State v. Watson, 251 Conn. 220, 225-28 (1999); State v. Coleman, 251 Conn. 249, 251, cert. denied, 529 U.S. 1061, 120 S.Ct. 1570, 146 L.Ed.2d 473 (1999).

The Supreme Court directed courts to refrain from using the phrase "ingenuity of counsel."  State v. DelValle, 250 Conn. 466, 475-76 (1999).

The appellate courts have disapproved of instructions that define "reasonable doubt" as "grave uncertainty," "an actual substantial doubt," and "a moral certainty."  State v. Hines, supra, 243 Conn. 819 n.18.

Courts should not use "two inference" language ("if two conclusions reasonably can be drawn from the evidence, one of guilt and one of innocence, the jury must adopt the conclusion of innocence") because "standing alone, such language may mislead a jury into thinking that the state's burden is somehow less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt."  State v. Griffin, supra, 253 Conn. 209-10.  A permissible alternative, which would logically follow the final sentence of this instruction, is:  "If you can, in reason, reconcile all of the facts proved with any reasonable theory consistent with the innocence of the accused, then you cannot find him guilty."  Id., 210 n.18.  See also State v. Lemoine, 256 Conn. 193, 205 (2001).

It is unnecessary and may confuse the jury to compare the reasonable doubt standard to the civil standard of clear and convincing evidence   State v. Fagan, 92 Conn. App. 44, 58, cert. denied, 276 Conn. 924 (2005).
 


 

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