You don’t have to study law to know that, in addition to federal laws mandated by the government, each state has its own set of criminal laws. When a person is accused of committing one of these offenses, he or she will be tried in criminal court and face a representative of the state, or prosecutor. This person, along with several other state employees, forms the state’s prosecution team—and it is up to this group to prove that the accused is guilty of the crime in question.

So how does the prosecution prove the defendant (the person accused of committing the offense) is in fact guilty of a particular crime? Using evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, the prosecution will present its version of events. In addition to proving he or she actually committed the offense, the prosecution is also responsible for proving that the defendant acted with intent or negligence. If the prosecution cannot prove both of these aspects, then the defendant cannot be convicted of the offense.

As you may already know, the United States Constitution grants numerous protections for its citizens, including those who are accused of a crime. One of these provisions includes a presumption of innocence—meaning all criminal defendants are innocent until they are proven guilty in a court of law. As a result, the burden of proof, or responsibility for proving the case, lies entirely on the prosecution.

Proving a defendant may have committed a crime, or most likely committed a crime, will not suffice in criminal court. Instead, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the evidence should be so convincing that no reasonable person would every question whether or not he or she is guilty. Therefore, if any reasonable doubts remain, the defendant cannot be convicted of the crime.

Fortunately, the sixth amendment of the United States Constitution entitles all citizens the right to legal counsel if they are ever accused of a crime. As a result, if you are facing criminal charges, choosing to hire an attorney may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make.