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The Rights of the Accused during Trial - The Burden Of Proof

compelled evidence beyond doubt

The "beyond all reasonable doubt" phrase, though it is not found in the Constitution, nonetheless remains a bedrock principle of the American legal system. It does not mean, however, that guilt must be proven beyond all doubt. This would be not be possible, any more than it would be possible to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the sun will rise in the morning and go down in the evening. The requirement of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, by contrast, is considered to be implied by the Constitution, as the Supreme Court held in In re Winship (1970).

As part of its burden of proof, the prosecution must do a number of things. The Sixth Amendment requires that it inform the accused of the crime for which he is charged, and this is interpreted to mean that the accusation must be as explicit as possible. Likewise the notion of due process in the Fifth Amendment is held to imply that the state must provide evidence to the defense--even, or rather especially, if that evidence helps the case of the accused. For instance if a prosecutor knows that a key witness has provided evidence which may exonerate the accused, he or she is compelled by law to inform the defense.

By contrast, the accused is not compelled to provide the prosecution with evidence which may help its case against him. On the contrary, the Fifth Amendment guarantees the right against self-incrimination. Not only is the accused not compelled to provide evidence, he is free to withhold it under questioning by "taking the Fifth." This does not mean that he is free to lie; it simply means that he is not compelled to take the witness stand, or if he does, he is not compelled to answer questions.

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