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What Is Blackstone's Formulation in Criminal Law?

Key Takeaways:

  • Blackstone's formulation holds that it is better that 10 guilty people go free than one innocent person suffer.
  • Blackstone's theories provided a basis for the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty.
  • The prosecution has the burden of proof to show that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the cornerstones of the American legal system is Blackstone’s Formulation. Sometimes known as the Blackstone Ratio, it is about the balance between protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. In the American criminal justice system, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

You are presumed innocent but you still need to defend your legal rights. Talk to a criminal defense attorney for more about your legal rights in a criminal case.

Who Is Blackstone?

William Blackstone was an English jurist who authored commentaries on the laws of England. Blackstone lived in England from 1723 to 1780. English settlers in the American colonies took his legal theories and used them as the basis for the American legal system.

The exact quote from Sir William Blackstone is, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

Blackstone’s Protecting the Innocent

The goal of Blackstone’s formulation is not to allow the guilty to go free. However, it ensures that the innocent are not unfairly jailed or punished.

Protecting the innocent is important because the consequences of a guilty verdict can be severe. If you are convicted of a crime, there is a chance that you can serve time in prison and lose your freedom. Other penalties can include costly fines and loss of property. Your criminal record can also follow you for the rest of your life, making it difficult to get housing and employment.

Blackstone’s formulation has been so influential that it is a legal right today. When accused of a crime, the legal system presumes you are innocent. Only when you are proven guilty can the law sentence you for your crimes.

Presumption of Innocence

When accused of a crime, the government must prove all the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. What this means is you don’t have any obligation to prove your innocence. The prosecutor has the burden of proof to show you are guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

Because a jury must presume that you are innocent until proven guilty, it improves your odds of receiving a fair trial.

Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Blackstone’s formulation is also why you must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a criminal case, you have constitutional due process guarantees.

A jury can’t convict you of a crime unless they find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means the evidence presented against you is so convincing that no reasonable person would question your guilt.

In such cases, the prosecutor has to prove every element of the crime you are charged with beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court has also held, that a judge must give special instructions to the jury on the presumption of innocence. This happens when the jury may convict on other considerations, rather than the evidence brought by the government.

Does Blackstone’s Formulation Apply in Civil Cases?

Blackstone’s formulation only applies in criminal cases. In civil cases, such as personal injury, medical malpractice, or breach of contract cases, the standard of proof is much lower, which is the “preponderance of the evidence.” This standard only requires the jury or judge to be convinced that it was more likely than not that you committed a civil offense.

If you are facing criminal charges, it’s crucial that you know all about your legal rights. These legal ideas are still largely shaped by ideas and principles passed down for centuries through common law. If you facing criminal charges, there are certain rights you enjoy. These include:

  • The right to a fair and speedy trial
  • The right to be presumed innocent
  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to get adequate representation
  • The protection against double jeopardy

How Can an Attorney Protect Your Rights?

The consequences of a criminal conviction can be severe. It is vital to protect your due process rights. Criminal defense attorneys know all about Blackstone’s formulation and how vital it is to prevent innocent people from going to prison.

The due process principles apply to all jurisdictions in the U.S. However, criminal procedures can vary by jurisdiction. If you believe your legal rights were violated in a criminal trial, speak to a criminal defense attorney to understand your legal options.

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