If we only present one witness, but based on that witness’s testimony you believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, can you convict him?I like it, and will henceforth add it to my stock questions. Mark doesn't like the fact that when a juror answers "no," they can be struck for cause. He thinks that the question is "a sneaky question, it’s unfair to the jurors, and it’s inelegant."
Inelegant? Oh my.
Methinks counsel doth protest too much. It sounds like an effective question to discern which jurors have opinions about the burden of proof that are contrary to law.
The burden of proof is simply: the state must prove each and every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Note: the burden is not "beyond any doubt" or "beyond any possibility of mistake." Our system does not, and never has, required absolute certainty to convict. It wisely recognizes that absolute certainty is next to impossible, and therefore entrusts admittedly fallible human beings with looking at the evidence in a case and seeing if they have any reasonable doubt about the defendant's guilt. It's not a perfect system, but it's better (I maintain) than letting criminals go free because we can't have absolute, metaphysical certainty of guilt.
There is nothing about that burden, considered either theoretically or historically and legally, that contains even an implicit caveat, "only upon testimony of more than one witness."
Now there is no doubt that such cases must be strictly scrutinized by prosecutors, and the first question must be, "why do I believe this victim/witness beyond a reasonable doubt?" If that question cannot be answered, the prosecutor would be well advised to find some other resolution of the case. There is also no doubt that a minimally competent defense attorney can make big points in a jury trial about convicting someone based on single-witness testimony.
Nonetheless, many, many cases would never see the light of day if single witness testimony was considered per se insufficient in law to support a conviction. In fact, probably most cases, at least the more routine ones, rely on the testimony of just one witness: a police officer.
But other cases often by their nature are single witness cases. For example, in Virginia, a state tied closely to the common law principles that stretch back hundreds of years, jurors are instructed in rape cases:
You may convict the defendant of rape or sodomy solely upon the testimony of the victim, if you find her testimony credible. There is no requirement of corroboration.Now a juror who is never going to believe a single witness, no matter how credible, no matter what the surrounding facts and circumstances, is simply not willing to be an impartial arbiter of the evidence in a case, and is adding requirements to the state's burden of proof that do not exist in law.
Why a lawyer would want a juror to act in such a lawless fashion escapes me... well, not really, of course, because defense attorneys hope that jurors have such hidden misconceptions about the law, and resent the fact that the state's attorneys are uncovering those misconceptions, and that the trial judges are, as they must, excluding such jurors from service.