#3: Case Theory and Burden

By Charlotte Combe

Criminal vs. Civil Cases
Before talking about case theory and burden, it’s important to understand the difference between criminal and civil cases in mock trial:

1) A criminal case...
Has a prosecution who charges the defendantHas a defense that represents the defendantThe prosecution has a burden to prove the guilt of the defendant ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’

2) A civil case...
Has a plaintiff who charges the defendantHas a defense that represents the defendantThe plaintiff has the burden to prove the guilt of the defendant through a ‘preponderance of evidence’

*The role of the defense does not change between criminal and civil cases 

What is Case Theory?

Case theory is the story you want to tell during trial to convince the jury to side with the prosecution/plaintiff or defense.

Most simply put, in criminal cases every prosecution case theory boils down to “the defendant is guilty of the crimes they have been charged with beyond a reasonable doubt”

Similarly, defense case theory boils down to “the prosecution has not met their burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Case theory differs in how the prosecution or defense chooses to prove the defendant guilty or not.
- Different teams may emphasize different pieces of evidence and testimony to prove their point.
- Ex: one defense team may center their case theory on an ignored alternate suspect, while another defense team may center their case theory on the lack of physical evidence found at the crime scene. ⇾Both of these case theories go to show reasonable doubt, they only differ in how they are communicating the reasonable doubt.

What does burden mean?
Burden is what the prosecution has to prove for the jury to return with a verdict of guilty.

The burden of the prosecution in criminal cases is to prove the defendant guilty on all charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Reasonable doubt can be defined as something that makes any reasonable person hesitate or question before coming to a conclusion.
- For instance, a key alternate suspect completely ignored by the prosecution would cause anyone to hesitate in deciding that the defendant is guilty-that is reasonable doubt.

The burden of the plaintiff in civil cases is to prove the defendant guilty through a preponderance of the evidence.
- A preponderance of the evidence means that the evidence suggests it is more likely than not that the defendant is guilty.
- The plaintiff only has to prove that over 50% of the evidence presented in the trial is in their favor.

On the other hand, the defense never has a burden regardless of whether it is a criminal or civil case.
- The defense only needs to show the jury that the prosecution did not meet their burden.

Glossary:

Defendant: the individual who is being charged in a criminal or civil case by the prosecution or plaintiff.

Visual Representation.