In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970)

Case Name: In Re Winship
Citation: 397 U.S. 358 (1970)

Facts: A juvenile court found by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed larceny.

Issue: Whether the preponderance of the evidence standard applied in the juvenile court was constitutionally permissible in a criminal case.

State’s argument: The defendant’s crime was “petty” and his punishment was only that he was to be confined for one and a half years at a “training school.” The requirement of a reasonable doubt standard in lower crimes would burden district attorneys who already have an overly burdensome caseload.

Defendant’s argument: The requirement that a criminal charge be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt dates back to our early years as a Nation. The Due Process Clause implicitly requires this standard and lowers the risk of innocent individuals being convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Holding: The Due Process Clause requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt in this case.

Reasoning: The reasonable doubt standard is “a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error.” The standard is indispensable to the respect and confidence of the community in how criminal law is applied because every individual has confidence that his government will not “adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper factfinder of his guilt with utmost certainty.”

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