In a Canadian criminal case such as sexual assault, the Crown has the burden of proof. It must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person is guilty. An accused person does not have to prove anything. The accused person is considered innocent until proven guilty. In other words, a person charged with any type of crime in Canada is presumed to be innocent unless and until the Crown is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty. This standard of proof is much higher than for a civil trial which requires mere proof to a balance of probability. The Crown is not required to prove an accused is guilty to a mathematical certainty. However, the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is far closer to mathematical certainty than to a mere balance of probability. It is the job of a criminal defence lawyer to raise enough reasonable doubt(s) in the minds of a judge or jury that they cannot convict based on this stringent requirement. In a sexual assault case, there are several ways a defence lawyer will try to raise a reasonable doubt.
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Definition
The definition of "reasonable doubt" is rather complex, but it also really just boils down to common sense. The Supreme Court of Canada considered the concept of reasonable doubt in R. v. Lifchus,  3 SCR 320. In its decision, the Court stated the following:
- Reasonable doubt must not be "imaginary or frivolous." The Court also said it cannot be based on "sympathy or prejudice."
- The Crown is not required to prove its case against an accused person with an "absolute certainty" of guilt. Mathematical certainty is an unrealistically high burden of proof that is not often attainable in a criminal trial.
- Proof beyond the idea that "the accused is probably guilty" is required to meet the standard of beyond reasonable doubt. If a judge or jury finds that an accused is only "probably guilty," the accused will be found not guilty.
- Reasonable doubt is "based on reason and common sense." It is connected either to the evidence or the lack of evidence presented at trial.
Before a jury begins their deliberations, the judge presiding over the trial is required to provide the judge with clear instructions and guidance regarding defining and determining whether there is reasonable doubt.
How Reasonable Doubt Applies in a Sexual Assault Case
Defence lawyers may defend some cases of sexual assault by raising a reasonable doubt that there was consent between the complainant and the accused person. The defence counsel could also argue that the accused person honestly but mistakenly believed that consent existed. In cases where the complainant is unable to identify the accused as the perpetrator of the alleged crime and matching DNA evidence is lacking, the defence lawyer could raise reasonable doubt about the identity of the accused and win their case. If there is no physical evidence of assault, a lawyer could raise doubt about whether the assault actually happened. These defences are specific to the facts of each case.
How Your Lawyer Can Challenge and Undermine the Crown's Case and Raise Doubt in the Jury's Minds
Your lawyer will start by carefully reviewing each detail of the evidence gathered by the police and the complainant's statement(s). The lawyer also needs to understand your version of events in great detail. Some aspects your lawyer will consider are:
- Did the complainant and the accused know each other before the alleged sexual assault? If so, what was their relationship?
- Does the complainant have any reason to "cause trouble" for the accused by making a false allegation or embellishing what happened between them? (Examples: A stepfather making rules a young person doesn't like; a coach or a teacher being "too tough" on a student; a boss who has recently fired an employee; a parent involved in a custody dispute; anyone involved in a difficult relationship breakup, etc.). In other words, is there a potential motive to lie and fabricate a false allegation?
- Is there any evidence that sexual activity actually took place?
- Is there any physical evidence of a sexual assault, such as cuts, bruises, and injuries to the genital region?
- Was a rape kit examination performed on the complainant, and what were the results of the examination?
- Are there any potential witnesses that could help the defence?
You can assist your lawyer in preparing your defence by providing any relevant information. These include e-mails, text messages, photographs, videos, or any other evidence that may be helpful to your case.
Contact Kruse Law to Discuss Your Case
If you face charges of sexual assault or any other sexually-based crime, do not jeopardize your future. The experienced and knowledgeable sexual assault defence lawyers at Kruse Law will work diligently to ensure your case has the best possible defence. If it turns out that your case is not defendable, they will work hard to obtain the lightest possible sentence for you. Schedule a free consultation or call toll-free 1-800-699-0806 to speak with one of our professionals today.