Created – September 27, 2020


What is the presumption of innocence and how does it affect my case?

Briefly stated, it means a defendant throughout a criminal procedure is presumed innocent. The burden falls upon the prosecuting attorney to prove that defendant is guilty of the criminal offense. The proof of this guilt is quite high, evidence of guilt must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that is based on evidence which leaves one firmly convinced of defendant‘s guilt. If there is a real possibility that the defendant is not guilty, the benefit of the doubt should be given to him/her and find the defendant not guilty.

Many crimes and public offenses have separate distinct components called “elements” where each element must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt before a person can be found guilty of the offense. In the absence of such proof, the person must be cleared of the charge.

The Code

Below is the language used on the presumption of innocence in the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure and the instructions given to a jury at trial for determining proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This will give you a clearer understanding of each principle.
Effective 5/13/2014
(1)  A defendant in a criminal proceeding is presumed to be innocent until each element of the offense charged against him is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In the absence of this proof, the defendant shall be acquitted.

(2) As used in this part, “element of the offense” means:
  • (a) the conduct, attendant circumstances, or results of conduct proscribed, prohibited, or forbidden in the definition of the offense; and
  • (b) the culpable mental state required.
See the link below for any updates on the code.
Utah Code 76-1-501

Jury Instructions

Cr103. Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Some of you may have served as jurors in civil cases, where you were told that it is only necessary to prove that a fact is more likely true than not true. In criminal cases, the prosecution’s proof must be more powerful than that. It must be beyond a reasonable doubt. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt.

There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt. If, based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find (him) (her) guilty. If, on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility that (he) (she) is not guilty, you must give (him) (her) the benefit of the doubt and find (him) (her) not guilty.

Cr104. Presumption of Innocence
Remember, the fact that the defendant is charged with a crime is not evidence of guilt. The law presumes that the defendant is not guilty of the crime(s) charged. This presumption persists unless the prosecution’s evidence convinces you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Cr301. Elements
The defendant, [NAME], is charged in [count___ of] the Information with [CRIME].
You cannot convict (him) (her) of this offense unless you find beyond reasonable doubt and based on all the evidence, each of the following elements:
1. That on or about the DATE, the defendant, NAME:
2. ELEMENT ONE: and/or (as appropriate)
3. ELEMENT TWO: . . .
After you carefully consider all the evidence in this case, if you are convinced that each element has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, then you must find the defendant GUILTY of [CRIME]. On the other hand, if you are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that one or more of these elements has been proved, then you must find the defendant NOT GUILTY.