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What Is Blackstone's Formulation in Criminal Law?

One of the cornerstones of the American legal system, lawyers often cite "Blackstone's Formulation" in criminal cases. The exact quote from Sir William Blackstone, per Harvard Law School, is as follows: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

Blackstone lived in England from 1723 to 1780. English settlers in the American colonies took his legal principle and used it as the basis for the legal system in their new country, the United States.

Protecting the Innocent

The goal of Blackstone's formulation is not to allow the guilty to go free. It is, however, to ensure that the innocent are not unfairly jailed or otherwise punished.

Protecting the innocent becomes 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. Other penalties, such as fines, can also be quite burdensome. 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 that you are innocent, which stems from this principle. It is only when you are found guilty that the law can treat you as such.

Presumption of Innocence

If you are 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. It is assumed by default. Rather, the burden of proving guilt beyond all reasonable doubt is entirely on the prosecutor.

The fact that a jury must presume that you are innocent until proven guilty greatly improves your odds of receiving a fair trial.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Blackstone's Formulation is also the reason you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In criminal cases, constitutional guarantees of due process ensure that a jury can't convict you of a crime unless they are convinced that you are guilty of committing the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. What this means is that the evidence presented against you is so convincing that no reasonable person would question that you are guilty.

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, in some cases, 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.

Shaping the Law Today

Are you facing criminal charges? If so, it's important that you know all about your legal rights, which are still largely shaped by ideas and principles that have been passed down for centuries. If you have been charged with a crime, 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

An Attorney Can Help Protect Your Rights

The consequences of a criminal conviction can be severe. It is, therefore, crucial that the government respects your due process rights. Speak to a criminal defense attorney if you believe your due process rights, including the rights to be presumed innocent were violated. Criminal defense attorneys know all about Blackstone's Formulation and how vital it is to prevent innocent people from going to prison.