In the American legal system, the prosecution must prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction. Reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof available in the justice system, and requires that the finder of fact have no other reasonable explanation available to them other than the guilt of the accused.
In many criminal trials where procedural or evidentiary defenses are unavailable, the defense attorney’s focus is casting doubt on the facts alleged by the prosecution. This may involve impeaching the credibility of witnesses, providing alternative explanations for certain conduct, or other tactics.
A little-known case out of the Midwest that made national news on September 15 provides an example of how an attorney can create reasonable doubt in the minds of a judge or jury. In that case, a judge found a former St. Louis police officer not guilty of first-degree murder or any lesser homicide charge. While this case occurred halfway across the country, it draws attention to how important the burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt” can be in the criminal justice system across the United States.
In 2011, two police officers—including the defendant—were involved in a high-speed chase with a suspected drug dealer. During the chase, the dashboard camera recorded the defendant stating to his partner, “we’re going to kill this motherf****r, don’t you know?” A few seconds after the police car crashed into the suspect’s car, ending the chase, the defendant fired several shots through the driver’s side window, killing the suspect. The defendant went to his squad car, removed his gloves, went to the passenger side of the suspect’s car, and spent some time leaning in the car. A gun was later found in the suspect’s car that had the police officer’s DNA on it but not the suspect’s.
About five years after the incident, prosecutors indicted the officer on charges of first-degree murder. The state alleged that the officer’s statements in the car proved he had the prior intent to kill the victim. In addition, the state claimed that the officer planted the gun in the victim’s car to later justify claims of self-defense. The defendant opted for a bench trial in front of a judge instead of a jury.
It’s easy to wonder how the officer was found not guilty. In fact, most of the community expected a guilty verdict, and protests and riots broke out after the opinion was published.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Is the Highest Burden of Proof
In order to convict anyone—even police officers—of a crime in the United States, a prosecutor must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that if a judge or jury has a doubt regarding the defendant’s guilt based on common sense or reason, then the defendant must be acquitted. For this reason, a not-guilty verdict does not always mean a defendant was innocent, just that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to meet the highest burden of proof in the case.
In addition, in cases of assault or homicide, defendants can claim self-defense, as the law allows people the right to use reasonable force to protect themselves from harm. In homicide cases, using deadly force would only be reasonable if the defendant feared serious bodily harm or death.
The laws of each state determine how self-defense works at trial. Some states treat self-defense as an affirmative defense and require a certain amount of proof by the defendant before it can be considered. Other states—like Missouri, where this case occurred, and Connecticut in most cases—only require a reasonable basis for self-defense before requiring the prosecution to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the prosecution had to prove the elements of the crime and that the officer did not act in self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
While the facts did seem stacked against the defendant, the officer’s defense attorneys challenged and questioned the state’s case enough to create sufficient doubt in the judge’s mind. The judge’s opinion states that because the state did not meet its burden of disproving self-defense, the verdict was not guilty on all accounts.
Discuss Your Charges with Our Experienced Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers
The laws involving burdens of proof and defenses in the criminal system can be confusing, and many people may not understand certain verdicts. That’s why, if you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime in Connecticut, you should have a defense attorney who knows how to present legal defenses and question a prosecutor’s case to prevent him from proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Please call the committed criminal defense attorneys at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC at (203) 327-1500 for a consultation today.
CONNECTICUT CRIMINAL DEFENSE
Protecting the Rights of Criminal Defendants throughout Connecticut
A criminal charge is a serious matter, whether you are accused of a misdemeanor or a felony. Even relatively low-level first-time offenses can result in serious consequences, including fines, probation, community service, and jail time. More serious offenses have the potential to land you in jail for years and completely derail your life course. In addition, a conviction on your criminal record could have a profound impact on your personal and professional life and hold you back for years or even decades.
If you have been accused of a crime, your future depends on the way your case is resolved. For this reason, anyone facing criminal charges should speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. At Koffsky & Felsen, LLC, we leverage our considerable experience to ensure that our clients are treated fairly, and that their legal rights are protected along every step of the way. To schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers, call us 24/7 at (203) 327-1500 or send us an email through our online contact form.
Representing Individuals Who Have Been Charged with State Crimes
Connecticut criminal law is expansive and criminalizes a lot of conduct. While state crimes are typically considered less serious than federal crimes, this is not always the case, and a conviction in state court could potentially expose you to significant criminal penalties. At Koffsky & Felsen, LLC, our Connecticut criminal defense lawyers are qualified to represent the rights of clients accused of a variety of crimes, including:
Providing Effective Federal Criminal Defense Representation
Federal criminal cases proceeding in U.S. District Court are significantly different from state criminal cases. For one thing, the vast resources of the federal government come into play, because these cases are often investigated by federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The Connecticut federal criminal defense lawyers of Koffsky & Felsen, LLC are experienced working in the federal criminal justice system and are qualified to represent people accused of any type of federal crime. We regularly work with clients accused of a variety of federal offenses, including the following:
|White collar crime||Supervised release violations|
Gang (i.e. RICO) Conspiracy
Savvy Negotiators and Experienced Connecticut Trial Attorneys
When clients who face a federal or state criminal case come to us for help, one of the first things that they want to know is how their case will be resolved. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict whether a case will go to trial, be dismissed, or end in a plea bargain.
At Koffsky & Felsen, LLC, however, we are committed to exploring every available option to ensure that our clients obtain the best possible outcomes. We will thoroughly analyze the way that your case was investigated to determine whether your rights were violated in any way by the police or the prosecution. If they were, it may be possible to suppress the evidence that was illegally collected and force the prosecution to drop the case. In addition, we will determine whether any legal defenses apply in your case—things like self-defense, alibis, consent, impossibility, insanity, or mistake. If your case does go to trial, we will do everything we can to cast doubt on the prosecution’s version of events and obtain an acquittal.
While our criminal lawyers are certainly prepared to take every case to trial if necessary, it is important to keep in mind that the majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains. In a plea bargain, the prosecution agrees to bring less serious charges or recommend a lenient sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. These deals are usually reached after significant negotiations between the prosecution and the attorney or attorneys representing the defendant. At Koffsky & Felsen, LLC, we are proficient negotiators who know how to identify and exploit weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, securing highly favorable plea bargains on behalf of our clients.
Attorneys Assisting Individuals Seeking Post-Conviction Relief
As Connecticut criminal defense attorneys, we understand the profound impact a criminal conviction can have on a person’s life. In addition to our work defending individuals facing active criminal cases, we also help people obtain pardons (also known as “expungements”) to clear their criminal records. Expunging a criminal record can help people in many ways, including making it easier to get jobs, obtain certain licenses, rent apartments, or gain admission into colleges or universities. In Connecticut, a person must wait three years after a misdemeanor conviction or five years after a felony conviction to seek expungement. Even after this period of time has passed, the Board of Pardons and Paroles still has significant discretion in deciding whether to grant a pardon. We help individuals who have been convicted of crimes obtain pardons by taking steps to show rehabilitation, helping them prepare their pardon applications, and representing them in any hearings that may take place before the Board.
Call Koffsky & Felsen, LLC Today to Speak with a Connecticut Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been accused of a criminal offense in the state of Connecticut, it is imperative that you retain a qualified criminal lawyer as soon as you can. At Koffsky & Felsen, LLC, our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys is committed to protecting the rights of criminal defendants and to ensuring that each case we handle is resolved as favorably as possible. When appropriate, we are tenacious negotiators who work with the prosecution to obtain the best possible plea bargain. When justice demands we take a case to trial, we will not shy away from a fight. To schedule a case evaluation with one of our lawyers, call Koffsky & Felsen, LLC today at (203) 327-1500 or send us an email through our online contact form.