5.1 Presumption of Innocence, Burden of Proof and Reasonable Doubt

(Last revised March 2011)

[1]              The first and most important principle of law applicable to every criminal case is the presumption of innocence. (NOA) enters the proceedings presumed to be innocent, and the presumption of innocence remains throughout the case unless the Crown, on the evidence put before you, satisfies you beyond a reasonable doubt that s/he is guilty.

[2]              Two rules flow from the presumption of innocence. One is that the Crown bears the burden of proving guilt. The other is that guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. These rules are inextricably linked with the presumption of innocence to ensure that no innocent person is convicted.

[3]              The burden of proof rests with the Crown and never shifts. There is no burden on (NOA) to prove that s/he is innocent. S/he does not have to prove anything.[1]

[4]              Now what does the expression “beyond a reasonable doubt” mean? A reasonable doubt is not an imaginary or frivolous doubt. It is not based on sympathy for or prejudice against anyone involved in the proceedings. Rather, it is based on reason and common sense. It is a doubt that arises logically from the evidence or from an absence of evidence.

[5]              It is virtually impossible to prove anything to an absolute certainty, and the Crown is not required to do so. Such a standard would be impossibly high. However, the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt falls much closer to absolute certainty than to probable guilt. You must not find (NOA) guilty unless you are sure s/he is guilty. Even if you believe that (NOA) is probably guilty or likely guilty, that is not sufficient. In those circumstances, you must give the benefit of the doubt to (NOA) and find him/her not guilty because the Crown has failed to satisfy you of his/her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

[6]              I will explain to you the essential elements that the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to establish (NOA)’s guilt. For the moment, the important point for you to understand is that the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt applies to each of those essential elements. It does not apply to individual items of evidence. You must decide, looking at the evidence as a whole, whether the Crown has proved (NOA)’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

[7]              If you have a reasonable doubt about (NOA)’s guilt arising from the evidence, the absence of evidence, or the credibility or the reliability of one or more of the witnesses, then you must find him/her not guilty.

[8]              In short:

1.    The presumption of innocence applies at the beginning and continues throughout the trial, unless you are satisfied, after considering the whole of the evidence, that the Crown has displaced the presumption of innocence by proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

2.    If, based upon the evidence, you are sure that (NOA) is guilty of the offence(s) with which s/he is charged, you must convict him/her of that offence since that demonstrates that you are satisfied of his/her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

3.    If you have a reasonable doubt whether (NOA) is guilty of the offence(s) with which s/he is charged, you must give him/her the benefit of that doubt and find him/her not guilty.

[1] This instruction will require modification where the burden of proof is reversed, for example, where the accused denies criminal responsibility on account of mental disorder.