August 17, 2018
Manafort trial offers explanation of “reasonable doubt”
The government has accused Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump, of various tax crimes. The accusations include 18 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and failure to report foreign assets. The case has garnered media attention due to its connection to Robert Mueller’s investigation of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. If convicted, Mr. Manafort faces a prison sentence of up to 305 years.
Will Mr. Manafort go to jail?
In order for the jury to find Mr. Manafort guilty of the accusations, they must determine that the government established his guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But what exactly does this mean? The jury was unsure, and requested additional guidance.
Ultimately, the court instructed the jury to review “their collective recollection” to answer the question.
What does “beyond a reasonable doubt” mean in a criminal case?
Essentially, this standard is defined by law as one where the jury can reach no other logical explanation from the facts presented in the case but that the accused committed the crime. If, during deliberations, it becomes clear to the jury that there is no doubt Mr. Manafort committed the crimes as alleged by the government, the jury must come back with a guilty verdict.
The law has designed this standard to be difficult to meet because it comes with serious penalties. Our society does not take the removal of one’s freedom lightly. As such, the government must make it clear, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused has committed the alleged crimes. In comparison, a jury is only required to establish the accused committed the crime by a “preponderance of the evidence” in civil cases. This is a lower standard and requires less evidence for the prosecution to establish a successful case. This is because civil cases only lead to monetary losses for the accused.
Lesson from the case: Structure defense to meet the standard
This discussion serves as a reminder of the importance of a strong defense strategy from the beginning of the case. Defense must bring evidence to establish the accused’s innocence and counter prosecution’s allegations. This will provide the jury the evidence needed to rule in favor of the defense during deliberations.