Brief filed: 06/10/2016
United States v. Petty
10th Circuit Court of Appeals; Case No. 15-1421
On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, The Honorable Philip A. Brimmer, D.C. Case No. 15-cr-00029-PAB.
The requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt protects both individual defendants and society's faith in the criminal justice system. The reasonable doubt standard protects the due process rights of individual defendants. The burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt also ensures the confidence of society in the outcomes of criminal trials. Jury instructions regarding the meaning of "reasonable doubt" are essential in ensuring criminal trials that comport with due process. The reasonable doubt instructions given in this case falls below the standard required by due process. Use of the phrase "firmly convinced" without a sentence distinguishing the reasonable-doubt burden from civil evidentiary burdens risks juror confusion. Using the word "only" to characterize the prosecution's burden, without simultaneously indicating that the burden is "heavy," minimizes the burden. Failing to instruct the jury that reasonable doubt may be based on a lack of evidence unduly heightens the bar for acquittal. Due to the combination of its deficiencies, the instruction given in this case did not serve the dual purposes of the reasonable-doubt burden.
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Kyle W. Brenton, Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, Denver, CO; Norman R. Mueller, Haddon Morgan & Foreman P.C., Denver, CO.