There’s a saying in legal circles that goes something like this: “It’s not what the prosecution thinks they know; It’s what they can prove.”
What exactly does that mean? Well, in many criminal cases, the facts of a situation aren’t always that clear. There may be all sorts of different pieces of evidence available, but what facts that evidence illustrates can be hotly contested.
Who decides the facts in a criminal trial?
Ultimately, many criminal trials come down to a specific (and predictable) pattern:
- Once the judge decides what can be admitted into the record, there’s a series of physical evidence, witness testimony and expert testimony presented in court by both sides.
- The prosecution ties all of the evidence and testimony it has presented together and states that the total leads to an inescapable conclusion about the facts of a situation: The defendant is guilty.
- The defense, in return, says that the evidence and testimony presented by the prosecution is somehow faulty, and that their evidence leads to an alternative fact: There is reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt.
Who gets the final say in a trial about what’s really a fact and what isn’t? In most cases, that’s the jury’s job. The judge only becomes a trier of fact when there’s a bench trial without a jury.
In short, it’s always wise to remember that both sides in a criminal case want to build a narrative that ties the evidence in that case together. That’s why it’s particularly important that defendants remember their right to remain silent when interacting with the police: The less you say, the harder it will be for the prosecution to use your words to create the narrative they need in court.
Are you in trouble with the law? Forget what the evidence says: The real facts of a case are what the jury says they are — and a skilled defense can help the jury in your case see alternative explanations that can lead to your acquittal.