Here’s a legal fiction that we live with: Defendant is accused of murder. Defendant is on probation while he is alleged to have committed this crime. The state presents an eyewitness to the crime. The jury disbelieves the eyewitness and returns a verdict of not guilty. Later, relying on that very same evidence, a judge finds the defendant guilty by a preponderance of the evidence of violating his probation and sentences him to 8 years imprisonment.
What is wrong with this picture? Legally, there is nothing wrong. There are different standards of proof. A jury must find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and a just must only find that the defendant violated his probation by a preponderance of the evidence.
In a case like this, however, it is interesting to analyze this further. All that can be gleaned from the news story about the state’s case is that it turned on the testimony of the eyewitness. The jury disbelieved the eyewitness, finding her account incredible. For the jury, there were only two options: either they believed her or they didn’t. They didn’t go back to their deliberating room and decide that they “didn’t believe her beyond a reasonable doubt”. Normal people don’t think like that; lawyers do. The jury certainly wasn’t sitting in that room saying: “well, it’s more likely than not that she was telling the truth, but it isn’t likely beyond a reasonable doubt”.
So they disbelieved the eyewitness. Zero credibility. They acquitted.
Yet, the judge, as was his right, believed the witness. Again, I don’t think a judge is sitting there thinking “It is more likely than not that she is telling the truth”. Either you believe the witness or you don’t. (I understand that you may believe parts of the witnesses testimony, but the jury clearly didn’t believe the part that had the defendant committing the crime and yet the judge did.)
So the judge is essentially telling the jury: “You got it wrong. I, one person, am right and you, six people, are wrong”. He’s allowed to do that.
Essentially, the man was acquitted and convicted based on the exact same evidence. Regardless of standards of proof, that should not be allowed to stand.