Beyond reasonable doubt is misunderstood

The Pennsylvania jury in the Bill Cosby trial has been deadlocked for five days and asked the judge for the meaning of the term “reasonable doubt” as in “beyond reasonable doubt.”  Based on my service on four juries, I suggest that lawyers and legal observers misunderstand how the typical citizen-juror thinks about the concept. Two years ago while a juror in a “criminally negligent manslaughter” case, a single juror held out over the concept “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said “I think the defendant is guilty but I always have “reasonable doubt” about serious questions. Therefore, if the test is “beyond that point,” I vote “not guilty.”  To him, the key term seemed to be BEYOND not “reasonable” in the phrase “beyond reasonable doubt.”  Yet, whenever I’ve heard judges and lawyers talk about the concept they focus on “reasonable” not on “beyond.” Continue reading