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A Guide to Levels of Proof Utilized in the Florida Criminal Process

Did you know that nearly three million criminal cases were filed in Florida trial courts between 2019 and 2020? Criminal charges should always be taken very seriously, and a Florida charge could change your life for good. The first thing you should do if you find yourself in this position is to hire an attorney. They will help you navigate the Florida criminal process.

When you go to trial, your attorney will educate you on how to understand legal jargon. And how the jury will interpret what goes on in and out of the courtroom. Part of the defense strategy may hinge on how the prosecution aims to prove guilt.

The three levels of proof in the Florida criminal justice system are beyond a reasonable doubt, the preponderance of the evidence, and clear and convincing evidence. Each of these will affect how the trial will play out.

Below is a guide to help you understand these levels of proof.

The Florida Criminal Process

An arrest or a notice to appear lies at the start of the criminal process. An officer may arrest you due to a warrant or if there’s reasonable cause. After an arrest, the case starts and the accused will likely appear in court within two days.

It’s always a good idea to comply with an officer’s directives for the sake of your trial and personal safety. For first and second-degree misdemeanors an officer may issue a notice to appear in court if the person complied well as they’ll have reason to believe the person receiving notice will appear at the designated time. You may seek legal assistance between the time you receive such notice and your trial date.

It’s also good to keep in mind that complying with an officer’s directives does not mean that you should share any information with them. Comply with instructions to perform actions such as staying in your car and signing citations. But calmly inform the officer that you only wish to answer questions after consulting an attorney (especially if you have the intention to defend in court).

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In order to successfully convict someone of a crime, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury is instructed to consider the evidence in a vacuum (not to have externalities influence their convictions). A lack of evidence that proves guilt, or even the presence of conflicting evidence, can raise a reasonable doubt as to a defendant’s guilt.

Let’s say you’re in court for shoplifting. If you were arrested with goods on your person while still in the store, it’s very difficult to prove that you intended to leave without paying. That is enough to raise a reasonable doubt about your guilt, and the jury must find you not guilty.

Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is needed to convict someone in the majority of cases. Misdemeanors and felony cases use this standard because of the seriousness of the consequences, as well as a person’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Clear and Convincing Evidence

Clear and convincing evidence is easier to prove than beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence does not have to rule out all chances of innocence. The court simply needs to see enough evidence to believe in the accused’s guilt.

The two primary uses of this burden of proof in criminal proceedings are in domestic abuse cases and some mental health defenses or appeals. If someone wants to file a restraining order. First, they need to convince the court that whoever is being filed against is a harmful threat. Restraining orders are legal actions that are filed pre-emptively, so proving that the claim is totally true is impossible.

The preponderance of the Evidence

The preponderance of the evidence proof is the lowest of the levels of proof. Plus, the preponderance standard is much more common in civil cases than in criminal cases but is still applicable in criminal proceedings.

If the authorities accuse someone of violating parole rules, the prosecutor only has to show enough evidence to prove guilt on this basis. All courts need to determine for a guilty verdict is that it is more likely that the accused violated parole. The verdict must still be based on evidence. But less evidence is required to prove that it’s probable that someone’s guilty than absolutely true.

Defense counsels also use the preponderance standard for an affirmative defense. Self-defense, entrapment, and insanity defenses are a few examples of where the court may apply this standard.

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are also burdens of proof. Prosecutors don’t fulfill these burdens of proof in court. They apply to the police and the legal standards they use for starting a search or an arrest.

Reasonable suspicion is more than just a cop’s hunch or prejudice. There need to be specific facts they can point out as to why they’ve stopped or searched you. This is the lowest burden of proof.

Probable cause is above reasonable suspicion. If the police decide to arrest without a warrant, they need to be able to list a number of convincing facts as to why they made the arrest.

Alternatively, the police can show a list of prepared facts to a judge. The judge will then issue an arrest warrant if there’s enough evidence to suspect probable cause.

An example of probable cause without a warrant would be if the police saw you robbing or assaulting someone. If they took video evidence of the same actions to a judge after the crime happened then they’d get a warrant for the arrest.

Make Sure You Get the Best Legal Advice

Criminal charges can change your life. Handling your criminal case within the boundaries of the law is the best way to proceed. If you’re on trial for something you didn’t do the burden of proof is strict enough to get you free again. It is up to the state’s prosecutor to fulfill this burden.

Though the Florida criminal process has high standards for proving guilt, having legal representation is the best way to ensure the outcome you want. If you’re looking for representation, our legal team covers injuries, traffic violations, and even serious felonies. Get in contact with us to find out about your case.


RHINO Lawyers can help and guide you through a system molded by law enforcement, judges, and lawyers for decades. Having won cases for our clients in similar circumstances, our criminal defense team knows what it takes to fight on your behalf.

Let RHINO Lawyers answer your questions and review the facts of your case with a Free Consultation. So, get started by completing the “Free Instant Case Evaluation” or by calling us any time, day or night, at (844) RHINO-77.