Georgia Criminal Defense Blog

Analysis of the Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases

Posted by Richard Lawson | May 24, 2018 | 0 Comments

As a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer, I am writing today's post on the burden of proof in a criminal case. I usually mention in each of my posts the importance that no one be considered or deemed guilty just because they have been accused of a crime in Georgia. My goal is to expand on that concept today because it can be a confusing concept to apply.

Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case

A burden of proof is best understood as the standard that a party is seeking to prove a fact in court. More simply, it is the duty placed upon a party to prove a fact. There are different standards in different situations. In criminal cases, the burden of proving someone's guilt is placed on the prosecution or in our state, the attorneys representing the state of Georgia. The prosecution must prove that the accused person, the defendant, is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That is their burden.

Furthermore, the prosecution has the burden of proving every element of the crime that the defendant is being accused of committing beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant on the other hand is not required to prove his or her innocence in order to avoid conviction.


Let me create a hypothetical. Let's say that “A” has been accused of committing aggravated battery in Georgia. First and foremost, “A” is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Keeping that in mind, the prosecution will have the burden of proving “A” guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Aggravated battery in Georgia is defined by law as follows:

A person commits the offense of aggravated battery when he or she maliciously causes bodily harm to another by depriving him or her of a member of his or her body, by rendering a member of his or her body useless, or by seriously disfiguring his or her body or a member thereof. O.C.G.A. §16-5-24.

Therefore, in order for “A” to be convicted of aggravated battery, the prosecution will have to prove that “A” is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt regarding each and every element of the crime. The State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that “A” intended to make physical contact and that the alleged victim suffered a severe injury or that “A” used a deadly weapon through evidence.

The most important aspect that I'd like to stress is that every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This presumption of innocence stays with the accused person until it is overcome by the state beyond a reasonable doubt.

Beyond a reasonable doubt is actually a relatively high standard. However, the State is not required to prove guilt beyond all doubt or to certainty/absolution. The State must overcome the presumption of innocence with evidence that is sufficient to convince the judge in bench trial in Georgia or the jury in a jury trial in Georgia beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the offense that he or she is being accused of committing.

The burden never shifts to the defendant to prove his or her own innocence.

Pattern Jury Instruction in Georgia (2017)

A pattern jury instruction from 2017 for the state of Georgia relative to burden of proof is as follows:

“After giving consideration to all of the facts and circumstances of this case, if your minds are wavering, unsettled, or unsatisfied, then that is a doubt of the law, and you must acquit the defendant. But, if that doubt does not exist in your minds as to the guilt of the accused, then you would be authorized to convict the defendant.” 

Practice Note:

When a criminal defendant raises a defense, unless it is an affirmative defense, the state has the burden to disprove that potential defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Contact Us:

If you or a loved one has been accused of committing a crime, contact a Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer today. We know that you are assumed innocent until proven guilty. We are here to ensure that all of your rights are being protected and that we will fight for your freedom. We will guide you through the process every step of the way and determine which Georgia Criminal Defenses best apply to your case. Contact us today.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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