Burden Of Proof And What it Means.

The question often arises: Why would civil cases usually require preponderance of the evidence but then, in rare instances, require a higher degree of proof? Clear and convincing evidence is re- served for instances in which the result for the parties will have a substantial impact on their lives. A court might require clear and convincing evidence in any of the following actions: 

Committing an individual to a mental institution. 

Deciding to withdraw life support from a patient in a persistent vegetative state. 

Parental rights. 

Disbarment of an attorney. 


Allegation of improper actions in an election. 

In each of these examples, the issues involved have such a significant potential impact on the parties that courts routinely require a higher standard of proof before allowing the action. Whether it involves removing life support from a patient or disbarring an attorney, these actions will have such drastic consequences that many states require the standard of clear and convincing evidence before a judge is authorized to make a ruling on them.

The burden of proof in a civil case, whether it is clear and convincing evidence or preponderance of the evidence, is never as high a standard as that required in criminal cases. Prosecutors in a criminal trial must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Although legal com- mentators and authorities have wrestled for centuries over the exact meaning of this term, most define it as substantial or overwhelming evidence that the defendant committed the crime with which he, she, or it is charged. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt means that the individual jurors in the case are convinced of the evidence against the defendant and have no major objections to the case pre- sented. This higher standard is required in criminal cases for the very simple reason that it should be more difficult to imprison a person than it is to assess monetary damages against him or her.

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