Louisiana law utilizes 3 different burdens of proof throughout the criminal justice process. These three burdens of proof are: the reasonable doubt standard, probable cause and reasonable suspicion. This post describes each burden and identifies when they are required during the criminal justice process.
The lowest standard of proof is “reasonable suspicion.” This standard is required whenever an officer who does not have probable cause to arrest someone wants to detain them and possibly conduct a pat-down. This tactic is known as “stop and frisk.” A police officer may temporarily detain someone if they have a reasonable basis to believe the person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. He must be able to articulate specific facts or reasons to support this belief. Assuming the police officer has the authority to detain someone, he may only do so for the time necessary to either confirm or dispel his belief that the person is engaged in criminal activity. Additionally, if the officer can articulate specific reasons why he thinks the detained person is armed, he may conduct a cursory frisk for weapons. During the frisk, if the officer feels an object that he immediately recognizes is a weapon, he may remove the item. Now, if during the course of the detention, the officer develops more facts rising to “probable cause”, he may arrest the person.
The next, and most common standard is probable cause. Unfortunately, neither the code nor jurisprudence provides a definitive definition of what constitutes probable cause, but it is generally considered to be nothing more than a reasonable belief to be that the person has committed a crime or that evidence of a crime will be found at a particular place. The probable cause standard is primarily used for 3 events: the arrest of a suspect, the authorization to search a person, place or thing and the return of a grand jury indictment. It is also the standard of proof used at a preliminary hearing in court. In essence, probable cause is the legal standard required to give law enforcement the permission to arrest someone or search some place.
The final burden of proof is the “beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard. This burden of proof is used at criminal trials. It requires the state prove a person’s guilt at a sufficiently high level before depriving that person of his liberty. The law provides a detailed definition as to the doubt necessary to sustain a conviction. A reasonable doubt is any doubt based on reason and common sense. It is not proof beyond all doubt or any conceivable doubt. Federal jurisprudence ads that the doubt necessary to acquit someone be of such certainty as would be used in making decisions for major life events such as marriage etc.