The burden of proof (or burden of persuasion) in a civil case is NOT the same “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden that the government has in convicting a criminal defendant. The burden of proof in a civil case is a much lesser burden.
Rather, the burden of proof in a civil case is often referred to as the burden to prove YOUR case by a “preponderance of the evidence” now known as the “greater weight of the evidence.”
It is this “greater weight of the evidence” burden of proof that a jury will be instructed upon. The jury will be instructed that it is their determination based on the evidence as to whether the plaintiff (party prosecuting civil claims) satisfied its burden of proof with respect to the elements of its claims against the defendant (party that the plaintiff is suing).
An example of a model jury instruction read to the jury explaining what a “greater weight of the evidence” means is as follows:
“Greater weight of the evidence” means the more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.
See Standard Jury Instruction 405.3.
One way this “greater weight of the evidence” burden of proof has been explained is that it is simply the difference between 51% and 49%, with the 51% representing the “more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.” Another way is to simply think of a scale of justice (see above image) where if the plaintiff’s evidence outweighs (by a marginal amount) the defendant’s evidence, than the plaintiff’s evidence was the “more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.”
To illustrate, applying this jury instruction to the elements of a breach of contract claim, this means a plaintiff MUST prove be a “greater weight of the evidence” that: (1) there was a contract between the plaintiff and the defendant; (2) the defendant breached that contract; and (3) the defendant’s breach of the contract caused damages to the plaintiff. See Knowles v. C.I.T. Corp., 346 So.2d 1042 (Fla. 1st DCA 1977).
Please contact David Adelstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.