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Стандарт доказывания «вне разумных сомнений»: вопрос определения и применимости в российском уголовном процессе

Завьялова Ю.А.,
студент РГУП

Научный руководитель Осадчая О.Н.,
доцент кафедры иностранных языков РГУП, канд. филол. наук

Аннотация. В уголовном процессе одну из ключевых ролей играет доказывание. Как в Российской Федерации, так и в Соединенных Штатах Америки существует презумпция невиновности. Однако в Америке, в отличие от России, доктринально признаны стандарты доказывания. В англо-саксонском уголовном процессе применяется стандарт «вне разумного сомнения». Проведя анализ стандарта «вне разумного сомнения» и сопоставив его с целью доказывания в отечественном уголовном процессе, делается предположение о том, что применение данного стандарта является актуальным и в России. Однако проявляется он лишь на практике, без теоретического подкрепления. В этой связи считаем целесообразным инициировать разработку в правовой доктрине системы стандартов доказывания в целях их эффективного внедрения в отечественную практику.

Ключевые слова: вне разумных сомнений, суд присяжных, уголовный процесс, стандарты доказывания, инструкции для присяжных, цель доказывания.

Zavyalova Yu.A.,
Student at the Russian State University of Justice

Scientific consultant Osadchaya O.N.,
Associate Professor at the Foreign Languages Department,
Russian State University of Justice, PhD in Philology

The standard of proof «beyond a reasonable doubt»: the definition and applicability in the Russian criminal procedure

Executive summary. Evidence plays a key role in criminal proceedings. In both Russia and the U.S.A., there is a presumption of innocence. However, in America, as opposed to Russia, standards of proof are doctrinally recognized. In Anglo-Saxon criminal procedure, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is applied. Having analyzed the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt” in America and compared it with the purpose of proof in domestic criminal proceedings, it is assumed that the application of this standard is also relevant in Russia. However, it appears only in practice, without theoretical basis. In this regard, it is worth initiating the development of standards of proof system in the legal doctrine in order to effectively implement them in domestic practice.

Keywords: beyond a reasonable doubt, jury, criminal procedure, standards of proof, jury instruction, purpose of proof.

Human rights are an absolute right for all human beings without any exception. Since the ancient times, people have tried to establish their rights and freedoms by putting them into laws. Nowadays, rights and freedoms are protected both nationally and internationally. The basic function of the government is to protect human and civil rights and freedoms, which it accomplishes through a system of principles and rules. If a person believes that their rights have been violated, they are entitled to go to court to have their violated rights restored.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone «equal protection under the law» [1]. At the same time, it is important to note that the U.S. Supreme Court has proclaimed the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused as the basis for the application of the U.S. criminal law. The court describes the presumption as axiomatic and undoubted [7]. It is no coincidence that a person is identified as “suspect”, “accused”, and “convicted” at certain stages of the process. We note that the presumption of innocence protects the rights of the person accused of committing a crime by putting the burden of proof on the prosecution.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is one of the standards of proof in the U.S. law. There are three main standards of proof: «beyond a reasonable doubt», «preponderance of the evidence», and «clear and convincing evidence». The last two are used in civil proceedings. In the frames of this study, however, it is more significant to analyze the first standard, which is used in criminal proceedings.

Juries are an integral part of the criminal process in America. And the prosecution must prove every count of the charges “beyond a reasonable doubt”. If the jury during the trial has any doubt that the defendant’s actions are related to the charges, they can’t deliver a guilty verdict.

The purpose of this study is to analyze the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard and to compare it with the Russian criminal procedure, as well as to determine the possibility of continuity of the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt” by reviewing the retrospective analysis of the current situation in the evidence aspect in America and comparison with the established mechanism of evidence in Russia.

There is a common understanding in the doctrine of the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt”: the evidence and arguments raised by the prosecution establish the guilt of the defendant so clearly that they must be accepted as fact by any reasonable person. But the definition of “a reasonable doubt” is not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution.

It seems important to mention that a verdict of acquittal does not mean that the defendant did not do what they are accused of. It only shows that the prosecution failed to prove the circumstances under which a person can be punished under the criminal law and to convince the jury of the guilt of the accused.

In order to properly understand the nature of a thing, it is necessary to take a retrospective view. Initially, this standard did not arise for the purpose of the correct application of the law. The standard “beyond a reasonable doubt” arose in the face of religious fears in the XVIII century. It was intended to reassure the jury that their souls would be safe if they voted to convict the accused. The fact is that the common law jurors were Christians. According to religious rules, becoming a juror means “pawning your soul”. Therefore, accusing an innocent person of a crime is a sin, followed by God’s retribution. In other words, “beyond a reasonable doubt” phenomenon is a product of the world whose values are very different from modern ones.

The place of this standard was not immediately determined. At one time, it was believed that the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt” could only be applied when considering cases of juvenile delinquency. However, this changed in 1970 in the case of In re Winship [9]. Twelve-year-old Samuel Winship was accused and subsequently found guilty of stealing money. The determination of his guilt was based on the standard of “preponderance of evidence”. Later, the Court found that the standard of “reasonable doubt” should apply to both adults and minors. Since the fate of a person is being decided, it is necessary to establish guilt on the basis of “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal proceedings, so as not to deprive the accused of protection from reaching a verdict on incorrect facts.

Over the years different definitions have emerged in different states. The legislative side of the issue is of value for our study. Looking at the procedural side of the jury trial, we need to pay attention to the instructions the judge writes and reads to the jury before they go into the jury room. Jury instructions are an important part of the process. This is a guide that the jury should follow when deliberating. Instructions are needed to explain to the jury the basis of the deliberative procedure as well as the substance of the law on which their verdict will be based [10].

Appellate courts instruct judges not to explain the standard of “a reasonable doubt” to jurors in their instructions. On the one hand, it really eliminates the need to explain such a difficult-to-understand standard. But on the other hand, the lack of clear explanations of the concept of this nature leads to the fact that every juror will interpret the standard «beyond a reasonable doubt» in his own way. And these interpretations can no longer guarantee the defendant the degree of protection that the standard assumes.

The simplest explanation of the standard is the following: reasonable doubt is a doubt based on a reason. That is, the jury can reach a guilty verdict if they have no doubts based on the reason. At first look, this interpretation looks logical, but there are also controversial points in it. Firstly, it is unclear whether these should be doubts that arose directly in the mind of the juror, or these are doubts that one juror imposed on others. Secondly, this definition contradicts the idea that a juror can proceed from their own intuitive feelings.

However, in order to avoid such inaccurate definitions, standard instructions are approved by the state court, the collegium committee or the bar association. They facilitate the process of drawing up instructions for the jury. At the same time, it is allowed that the court changes them as necessary to match the circumstances of the case. In other words, the standard instructions are not mandatory, but are of a recommendatory nature. It seems that the introduction of pattern instructions will partially normalize the work with this standard, but only a single and mandatory interpretation of the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt” for all courts will be able to completely eliminate the ambiguity of the concept.

One of the clearest examples of a reasonable doubt standard implementation is “People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson” [11]. During the trial it was proved that the investigation was conducted carelessly, violations in the handling of evidence were allowed, and the biased attitude of police officers towards Afro-Americans was also confirmed. As a result, in October 1995 Simpson was found not guilty.

In Russia there is a pluralism of opinions among experts on the acceptability of this standard in national criminal proceedings. In the law of continental Europe, there is no strict distinction between the standards of proof applied in civil and criminal cases.

In the Russian Federation, before the removal of the jury to the jury room for the verdict, the presiding judge addresses the jurors with a parting word, which is stated in the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation [2]. The law fixes the points that should be covered by the judge presiding over the case. These include provisions similar to the instructions for juries in America, namely: the basics of the deliberating procedure and the essence of the law on which their decision will be based. It is important to note one more point that is included in the parting word. The presiding judge explains to the jury the basic rules for evaluating evidence in their entirety; the essence of the principle of presumption of innocence; the provision on the interpretation of unresolved doubts in favor of the defendant; the provision that their verdict can be based only on the evidence that is directly examined at the hearing, no evidence for them has a predetermined force, their conclusions cannot be based on assumptions, as well as on evidence recognized by the court as inadmissible.

The parting word should be clear to the jurors, as the legal terminology is explained here. And the problem of the form of delivering information to the jury in Russia and America is the same – inaccuracy. It seems that the difficulty is the explanation of such moments as interpretation.

In Soviet times, there were opinions that allowed the possibility of making judicial decisions based on the probable establishment of circumstances. However, scientists have not proposed any indication regarding the degree of reliability that courts should be guided by when analyzing circumstances for different categories of cases.

Based on the legislation of the Russian Federation and the scientific literature, we can conclude that the Russian doctrine does not establish a stable concept of standards of proof. While in the Anglo-American doctrine there is a clear understanding of the system of standards.

It is important to note that in the United States the dominant view is that it is impossible to completely avoid mistakes in establishing the circumstances of the past in court proceedings. While in the national literature there is a discussion about the purpose of proof in criminal proceedings. Thus, in the journal “Library of criminalist. Scientific Journal” most authors are inclined to the fact that the goal is “objective truth”. This concept refers to full and exact correspondence to the objective reality of the conclusions of the investigative committee and the court about the circumstances of the investigated and resolved case. The court acts in the interests of the state and society, trying to restore the violated rights, trying to apply the rule of law fairly.

However, a more rational view of the purpose of proof in domestic criminal proceedings can be found in the literature in the form of “judicial truth”. That is, it becomes important to reach a constructive consensus, which does not exclude the possibility of debate on various aspects of the relevant problem. According to Mezinov D.A., “judicial truth” is reliable conclusions about the circumstances of the case, fully justified by the evidence and based on internal convictions [4]. It is assumed that in cases where, in applying all legal measures, the establishment of objective truth fails, the presumption of innocence is applied. In this position the lack of irremovable reasonable doubts takes an important place. It is worth stating that Stelmakh V.Yu. considers it correct to extend the concept of judicial truth only at the judicial stages of criminal proceedings, but not at all [7].

The discussion of the concepts of “objective truth” and “judicial truth” is a debatable topic. At this time, it is not possible to note the unity of views in the legal doctrine regarding the subject of proof in domestic criminal proceedings. Russia does not have such a clear understanding of the standards of proof as in the United States (in civil proceedings – the standard of “preponderance of evidence”, “clear and convincing evidence” and in criminal proceedings – “beyond a reasonable doubt”).

In addition, the institution of standards of proof is a borrowing from foreign law. In Russia there are attempts to introduce standards of proof. Returning to the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt”, we note that this standard is actually realized in the investigation of evidence in an attempt to establish objective truth. It should be highlighted that “beyond a reasonable doubt” in the United States is inseparably connected to a jury, while the Russian doctrine deals with the issue of domestic beliefs and the elimination of doubts primarily by the investigative committee and the judge.

Despite the fact that the United States of America and the Russian Federation belong to different legal families, we conclude that it is possible to borrow the standard “beyond any reasonable doubt”, based on the arguments presented in the study, without any negative consequences of opposition to the norms of criminal procedure.


1) Criminal Procedural Code of the Russian Federation. URL: https://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_34481 (дата обращения 06.02.2023).

2) The U.S. Constitution. Amendment 14. URL: https://constitution.congress.gov/browse/amendment-14/ (дата обращения 06.02.2023).

3) Whitman J. Q. The Origins of Reasonable Doubt: Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial, New Haven: Yale University Press. 2008. 288 p.

4) Kozlov M. A. Standarty dokazyvaniya kak rezul’tat retseptsii inostrannogo protsessual’nogo prava [Standards of Proof as a Result of the Reception of Foreign Procedural Law], Rossiiskoe pravo: obrazovanie, praktika, nauka. 2022, № 4, pp. 28–39 (In Russ.).

5) Mezinov D. A. Standart «vne razumnih sonmemii» kak kriterii dostizheniya celi ugolovno-processyal’nogo dokazivaniya [The standard «beyond a reasonable doubt» as a criterion for achieving the purpose of criminal procedure proof]. Vestnik –Tomsk State University. 2017. №23. pp. 40-47. (In Russ.).

6) Nasonov S.A. Naputstvennoe clovo predsedatel’stvuyushego v sude prisyazhnih: znachenie, svoistva I trebovaniya [Jury instructions: meaning, characteristics and requirements]. Voprosi sudebnoi yurisprudencii — Kutafin Moscow State Law University. 2013. №27. pp. 101–108. (In Russ.).

7) Smith B. The Presumption of Guilt and the English Law of Theft, 1750–1850. Law and History Review, 2005. № 23(1). pp. 133–171.

8) Stelmakh V.Yu. Sudebnaya istina v ugolovnom sudoproizvodstve [Judicial Truth in Criminal Proceedings]. Vestnik Permskogo universiteta. Juridicheskie nauki — Perm University Herald. Juridical Sciences. 2016. № 1(31). pp. 112–120. (In Russ.).Case File: The OJ Simpson Trial. URL: https://forensicsciencesociety.com/thedrip/case-file-the-oj-simpson-trial (дата обращения 06.02.2023).

9) In re Winship. URL: https://www.oyez.org/cases/1969/778 (дата обращения 06.02.2023).

10) Jury instructions. URL: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/jury_instructions (дата обращения 06.02.2023).

11) O. J. Simpson trial. URL: https://www.britannica.com/event/O-J-Simpson-trial (дата обращения 06.02.2023).

12) The Presumption of Innocence and Its Importance to Your Criminal Defense. ULR: https://lotzemosley.com/blog/the-presumption-of-innocence-and-its-importance-to-your-criminal-defense/ (дата обращения 06.02.2023).