How Much Evidence Is Needed To Convict Someone?

Updated December 19, 2023
9 min read
How Much Evidence Is Needed To Convict Someone?


If you’re accused of a crime in the US, you are innocent until the prosecution proves you guilty. The prosecution must prove every element of the case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The beyond-a-reasonable doubt standard is the highest evidence level the US courts require. All criminal cases require this burden of proof. This article reviews what kind of proof is needed for a conviction.

What Is the Reasonable Doubt Standard?

Generally, three standards of proof are required for a plaintiff or prosecution to prove its case. These are:

  1. Reasonable doubt, meaning the highest standard;

  2. Clear and convincing evidence –– a high standard and the expected standard for civil cases;

  3. The preponderance of the evidence –– the lowest standard of evidence needed. This standard is used for some civil cases.

Proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt comes with a high burden of proof. The jury (or the judge if the trial is a bench trial) must believe that no reasonable person would doubt the defendant’s guilt. However, it is different from proving the case beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Proving a case with clear and convincing evidence means that the judge or jury believes the defendant is almost undoubtedly guilty or responsible for the claims made against him. It does not require that all doubt be removed from the minds of the judge or jury. Instead, the judge or jury must believe that the case the plaintiff presented is almost certainly true.

In civil cases, a letter of intent to sue can play a role in this process. The letter usually outlines the plaintiff's grievances and the intended action unless certain conditions are met. It can be a precursor to formal legal proceedings.

This is the most common burden of proof required in such civil cases. However, it is never used as the standard for finding a defendant guilty in a criminal case.

The preponderance of the evidence standard is the lowest burden of proof required. This standard requires the plaintiff to prove that the evidence presented is more likely true. This burden of proof is used in administrative law cases and some civil cases. However, it is never used for finding guilt in a criminal case.

What Are the Different Types of Evidence?

A criminal conviction typically hinges on the body of evidence the prosecution presents. How much evidence is needed to prosecute varies depending on the case. The prosecution must prove the defendant committed the crime at hand, and the prosecution will build its case on the best evidence available. It typically entails two types of evidence –– direct and circumstantial.

Direct evidence

Direct evidence directly proves a fact without needing any inferences or assumptions. Thus, it demonstrates the ultimate truth to be proved. A witness relates directly to what is experienced. Examples of direct evidence include eyewitness testimony, video recordings, and DNA evidence. Direct evidence is often considered stronger than circumstantial evidence because it leaves little room for doubt.

Circumstantial evidence

Circumstantial evidence requires inference or deduction to connect it to a conclusion. It is evidence that suggests a fact but does not directly prove it. Examples of circumstantial evidence include footprints at a crime scene, motive, or behavior patterns. Circumstantial evidence can be robust, but it is often open to interpretation and can be challenged.

What Can I Do If I Have Been Criminally Charged?

If you were criminally charged, there are several steps you can take to protect your rights and build a strong defense:

  1. Hire a criminal defense lawyer: A qualified criminal defense attorney must represent you in court. An experienced attorney can assist you in protecting your rights, constructing a defense, and navigating the legal system.

  2. Recognize the charges: Make certain you understand the charges against you as well as the potential consequences if convicted. Your attorney can assist you in understanding the charges and the legal process.

  3. Collect evidence: Collaborate with your attorney to gather evidence and construct a strong defense. It may include witness statements, physical evidence, or expert testimony.

  4. Consider plea bargains: Depending on the circumstances of your case, you can negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution. It may involve pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a reduced sentence.

  5. Prepare for trial: Work with your attorney to prepare a strong defense if your case goes to trial. It implies selecting a jury, presenting evidence, and cross-examining witnesses.

Remember that you have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to a fair trial. Criminal defense attorneys can help you take steps to build a strong defense, protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

How Much Evidence Is Needed to Charge Someone With a Crime?

Solid evidence to charge someone with a crime is not necessary. An arrest or charge against someone is only an allegation or complaint that the person either participated in or committed a crime. Police or a district attorney often file charges against someone without evidence to convict them.

However, an officer must have probable cause to believe the person had participated in a crime to make an arrest. In contrast, an officer must only have a reasonable suspicion of the person engaged in a crime or has information about a crime to detain a person for questioning.

An arrest warrant is a court order authorizing the officer to arrest someone. An officer does not always need an arrest warrant to claim a person is guilty of a crime. If an officer investigating a crime believes there is a reasonable doubt that the person committed a crime, the officer can apply to a court for an arrest warrant.


A person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the highest standard of evidence required in criminal cases. Direct evidence, such as eyewitness testimony and DNA evidence, is considered stronger than circumstantial evidence, which involves inference or deduction to connect it to a conclusion.

To charge someone with a crime, the police must have probable cause, while reasonable suspicion is sufficient for detention and questioning. While an arrest or charge against someone is only an allegation or complaint, working with an experienced criminal defense attorney and building a solid defense can help protect one’s rights and achieve the best possible outcome in a criminal case.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

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