We’ve all heard that no one can be convicted of a crime unless they’re proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, no one explains what that means. And in Illinois, even the courts won’t tell you what it means. You, as a juror, have to figure that out for yourself. Illinois is one of a very few states that refuses to give a definition of reasonable doubt because “it tends to confuse the jury.” This arose out of a case over 120 years ago when lawyers composed their own instructions for the jury. One lawyer wrote an instruction so confusing that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the instruction in that case only tended to confuse the jury.

Since then we have Pattern Jury Instructions that are published by the Illinois Supreme Court. And they have gone from that ruling of 120 years ago that the reasonable doubt instruction was confusing in that case only to the instruction being confusing in all cases. Only God knows how they came to that conclusion. Because of that, we defense lawyers can only say the prosecution must prove our client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We can’t define it, because the judge can’t give an instruction defining reasonable doubt. So jurors are left to themselves trying to figure out what it means. What an advantage to the prosecution.

So, what does “reasonable doubt” mean? Oh, we forgot a word, “beyond.” The prosecution must prove a person guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That means no doubt at all because “beyond” means going further. So, a juror, being a reasonable person, having any doubt whatsoever, must find the accused not guilty. A very well respected judge in Cook County, long since retired, once said that “If at the end of the case I still have questions in my mind, I’ll find the defendant not guilty.” In other words, the prosecution must answer all questions in a juror’s mind for that juror to vote guilty. It’s not a matter of the prosecution being close. As the old saying goes “close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Speculation and opinions are out. Guessing is also out. If you’re guessing, speculating or opining then you must vote not guilty.

The judge will instruct the jury to deliberate. That’s ok. Sometimes other jurors can clear up a point that’s confusing one or more jurors. BUT, if you have doubts in your mind and the other jurors’ arguments still don’t relieve you of your doubt, don’t give in to pressure.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “As ye judge, so shall ye be judged.” The same standards of judgment will be given to you as you give the defendant. Think about that.


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