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Model Charge: Burden Of Proof Presumption Of Innocence, Reasonable Doubt

Model Charge: Burden Of Proof Presumption Of Innocence, Reasonable Doubt

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 In State v. Wentworth, 118 N.H. 832, 395 A.2d 858 (1978), the Supreme Court of New Hampshire prescribed a model charge, which is set out below, for use by trial judges in their instructions to the jury on the issue of reasonable doubt. The charge was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Tsoumas v. State of New Hampshire, 611 F.2d 412 (1980). In State v. Aubert, 120 N.H. 634, 421 A.2d 124 (1980), the New Hampshire Supreme Court, in reversing a conviction on the basis of an improper reasonable doubt charge, indicated that trial judges should not depart from the model charge set forth in State v. Wentworth.

Under our constitutions, all defendants in criminal cases are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proving guilt is entirely on the State. The defendant does not have to prove his innocence. The defendant enters this courtroom as an innocent person, and you must consider him to be an innocent person until the State convinces you beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of every element of the alleged offense. If, after all the evidence and arguments, you have a reasonable doubt as to defendant's having committed any one or more of the elements of the offense, then you must find him not guilty.

A "reasonable doubt" is just what the words would ordinarily imply. The use of the word "reasonable" means simply that the doubt must be reasonable rather than unreasonable; it must be a doubt based on reason. It is not a frivolous or fanciful doubt, nor is it one that can easily be explained away. Rather, it is such a doubt based upon reason as remains after consideration of all the evidence that the State has offered against it. The test you must use is this: If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether the State has proved any one or more of the elements of the crime charged, you must find the defendant not guilty. However, if you find that the State has proved all of the elements of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you should find the defendant guilty.