DEFINITION OF REASONABLE DOUBT
“SUCH A DOUBT AS WOULD CAUSE YOU TO HESITATE”
One of the few things a defense lawyer has going for him or her during closing argument is the typical definition of “reasonable doubt” in federal criminal trials. The standard pattern jury charge is as follows:
“A reasonable doubt is a doubt based upon reason and common sense after careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence in the case. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore, is proof of such a convincing character that you would be willing to rely and act upon it without hesitation in the most important of your own affairs.” See: Fifth Circuit Pattern Jury Charges; U.S. v. Alonzo, 681 F.2d 997 (5th Cir. 1982), cert. Denied, 459 U.S. 1021 (1982).
Typically, defense counsel can forcefully argue such an instruction with respect to a discredited cooperating witnesses:
“I believe that His Honor will instruct you that a ‘reasonable doubt’ is such a doubt as would cause you to hesitate in matters of utmost importance to you or your loved ones. In our daily lives we all have to rely on the representations of others in all sorts of matters, from buying encyclopedias to used cars. If you wouldn’t hesitate before acting on the advice of the likes of [the prosecution witness] in matters of utmost import in your life or the life of a loved one, then my client never had a chance when he walked into this courtroom.”
After detailing all of the discrepancies and shortcomings of the prosecutions case against “Buck” Wood in the “Brilab” prosecution, I utilized this instruction in closing for the defense:
“I believe the court will instruct you that the definition of reasonable doubt is that it is such a doubt that would cause you to hesitate in matters of utmost importance in your life or in the life of your loved ones. I can only tell you that when you go back into that jury room and search in the place within you where you make those tough decisions about matters of importance to yourself or to your loved ones, that if that, if all of this doesn’t create a reasonable doubt, Buck Wood never had a chance when he walked into this courtroom. If that doesn’t cause you to hesitate before you would act in matters of utmost importance to yourself or your loved ones, Buck Wood never had a chance when he came in these doors. And that’s all we ask is a chance for him to return to his family and to return to the side of his lawyers on this side of the bar.”