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[a] Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
In a criminal tax prosecution, just as any other criminal prosecution, the Government bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
There is no universally accepted jury instruction defining reasonable doubt. Some courts and commentators urge that the bare words – beyond a reasonable doubt – should be used with no attempt to further define the term. Other offerings of instructions provide more words, without perhaps more guidance and clarity. Some perhaps would argue that this is a good state of affairs, for it permits the jury in its collective wisdom to shape the fact finding process to its perception of the needs of the community and the individual charges and defendant.
Trial lawyers love to describe burdens in percentage terms:
Consider what “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” actually mandates that the jury do. Surely it requires more proof than the preponderance of the evidence standard, which governs in civil cases. As commonly explained to civil juries, the preponderance standard is quantified as any amount of certainty greater than 50%, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt must mean more than that. But how much more proof than a preponderance is needed in a criminal case? The quantity of certainty is never quantified; instead, it is kept quite vague. Is 90% certainty required? 95%? 99%? Or could the amount of certainty be much lower, say perhaps 75%?
Indeed, whatever the “percentage” level of certainty imagined to be inherent in the standard, it is reported that “research has consistently shown that the jurors in criminal cases will often be satisfied with much less certainty than is conventionally assumed.”
Consider the following from Judge Posner: