The instruction on circumstantial evidence is confusing even to lawyers. And reasonable doubt? That’s the hardest, most elusive one of all. And I think it’s where even the most fair-minded jurors can get derailed.
How? By confusing reasonable doubt with a reason to doubt. Some believe that thinking was in play in the Simpson case. After the verdict was read in the Simpson case, as the jury was leaving, one of them, I was later told, said: “We think he probably did it. We just didn’t think they proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.” In every case, a defense attorney will do his or her best to give the jury a reason to doubt. “Some other dude did it,” or “some other dude threatened him.” But those reasons don’t necessarily equate with a reasonable doubt. A reason does not equal reasonable. Sometimes, that distinction can get lost.
In Scotland, they have three verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. It’s one way of showing that even if the jury didn’t believe the evidence amounted to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it didn’t find the defendant innocent either. There’s a difference. And maybe that’s what today’s not-guilty verdict really meant. Not innocent. Just not proven. The jurors will eventually speak out and tell us.