Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt or Some Other Standard?

DA Prosecution Standards Questioned

The Denver DA’s Office has recently been scrutinized for its proportionately high “no file” rate. Investigators for Channel 7 news learned that Denver declines cases for filing at a higher rate than other DA offices. The Denver DA’s Office may be declining cases for filing because they are using a different standard than other DA offices when determining whether there is enough proof or evidence to file a case.

Mitch Morrissey, the District Attorney for Denver, has said that when his attorneys review cases for filing, they are to consider whether they can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the burden of proof at trial and is the highest burden of proof in the American legal system.

In contrast, on the other end of the spectrum, a police officer can arrest a person if he or she has probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime. Similarly, a judge may issue an arrest warrant if he ir she believes there is sufficient information to support probable cause that the person has committed a crime. Probable cause is a much lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this article, DU Law professor, Kris Miccio, takes the position that using the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard at the initial filing phase is too high of a standard. As support for this position, she argues that early on in a case the prosecution may not have all of the information that will become available through time and investigation. This may raise some procedural questions about how cases are filed and when they can be filed.

Legal Process

Q:  What is the actual standard for filing a case?

A:  As the article demonstrates, this question is not an easy question. Technically, a person can legally be arrested and the case can legally remain in the system so long as there is probable cause that the crime(s) charged have been committed. From an ethical standpoint, prosecutors should not pursue cases that they cannot prove. Because a prosecutor must prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, they should not pursue cases they do not believe they have a reasonable likelihood of proving beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Q:  Can the DA’s office initially decline to file a case and then later change their mind?

A:  Yes, so long as the statute of limitations has not run. A statute of limitations is the time within which a case must be filed. For example, if a crime has a five year statute of limitations, then the case must be filed within five years of the date the crime was committed otherwise the prosecution is prohibited from filing the case. Different crimes have different statutes of limitation. Less serious crimes have shorter statutes of limitation than more serious crimes. If a case is submitted for review by the DA’s office and the DA’s office declines to file the case because there is not sufficient evidence, but later police find an additional witness who provides additional information, then the police could resubmit the case for review and the DA’s office could change their mind and file the case so long as the statute of limitations has not run.

Q:  Can the DA’s office file a case with charges that are different than the charges the police officer requested?

A:  Yes, the DA’s officegets the final say as to which charges are filed. The DA’s office may file the exact charges submitted by the police, but they may also file different or additional charges. The DA’s office may file more serious charges or reduced charges. In fact, the DA’s office has the right to add and/or amend charges even after the case has been filed.

If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime and the procedure has been confusing, please contact us for a free consultation. The legal process can be very confusing and the longer you wait to hire a lawyer, the longer your rights are going unprotected.  (303) 758-7700.

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