Must charges be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in juvenile cases?

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Even though a juvenile defendant does not have a right to a jury trial and the consequences that occur to them if convicted are less severe than they would be if their case were tried in adult court, any charge against a juvenile is still a crime. As this is the case, the judge who presides at trial must find that a juvenile defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to convict him of the crime.

Evidence in a Juvenile Delinquency Case

Proof that satisfies the reasonable doubt standard is the kind that is so clear and convincing an individual would be willing to rely on it in deciding matters of importance in his life, such as when to get married or when to buy a house. The proof required to satisfy the reasonable doubt standard is sufficient if it is to a reasonable, but not necessarily an absolute, certainty.

The beyond a reasonable doubt requirement for a conviction in a juvenile case can be met solely through direct evidence, solely through circumstantial evidence, or through a combination to the two types. Direct evidence, or the kind that stands on its own to establish or prove a given fact can be established through witness testimony. For example, direct evidence is witness testimony stating that the witness saw the defendant point the gun at the victim and pull the trigger.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is the kind of evidence that indirectly attempts to establish a given fact. Generally, this kind of evidence is presented to the fact finders as a series of events that lead to an asked for conclusion. For example, in a murder case, witness testimony stating that the witness heard a male voice in another room threaten to shoot someone, then a shot was heard, then a male was seen running from the room with a gun in his hand, is circumstantial evidence that the man shot the woman who was later found lying on the room's floor. This evidence can be used to establish the juvenile defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, as long as the fact finder believes it is credible. 

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