What is "Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"?

Ohio defines Reasonable Doubt as “a doubt based on reason and common sense. Reasonable doubt is not mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs or depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof of such character that an ordinary person would be willing to rely and act upon it in the most important of the person’s own affairs.” Anyone who sits on a jury will be read that before they go back to deliberate on a verdict.

There’s two main parts to reasonable doubt. Firstly, what it’s NOT. Reasonable doubt is NOT mere doubt, or beyond a shadow of a doubt. Secondly, what it IS, is information that one would rely on in the most important of their affairs. Let’s break that down.

Everything we do has a certain amount of doubt. How do you know you’re actually reading these words on a screen? Could it be that you’re actually living in a computer simulation concocted by robots, like the Matrix? Yes, there’s a remote possibility that’s true. We could debate for hours on Cartesian philosophy but that’s irrelevant. That’s not what we mean by “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  Even if you witnessed a murder with your own eyes it’s possible that what you saw was an alien who looked like the suspect who killed the victim. Again, that’s not what we mean by “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

We make decisions everyday, and those decisions are based off the information we receive from outside sources. A reasonable person would make an important decision based off of information that they believe is most credible. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to figure out where to go to lunch. There’s two restaurants you haven’t tried before: Happy Dog and Sad Cat. Cousin Chris says that Happy Dog has great food, but you know that Cousin Chris would also eat a sandwich out of a garbage can. So you might discount his opinion because he may not be that credible. Auntie Alison says Happy Dog has great food, but she’s a professional food critic. So you might highly value her opinion. More importantly, you might say that you’re going to try out Happy Dog anyway because it’s just lunch. It’s not going to matter much in the end. Now let’s say that you wanted to take out someone on a date. You probably wouldn’t value anything that Cousin Chris has to say because he’s not credible. You would probably only listen to Auntie Alison. In our final example you have an interview for a very lucrative job. The panel of interviewers tell you that it will be a lunch interview, you get to pick the place, but the quality of the place will affect whether or not you get hired. In this case you probably would not just listen to Auntie Alison, but you’d also go out of your way to fine the most credible critics and take their opinion into account as well. The opinion offered by Auntie Alison and her colleagues is what we would call Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.