At a trial, conviction of a criminal offense depends on the government establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants are guilty of the crime for which they are charged. This is the highest standard of proof required within the US legal system.
The Burden of Proof
The government must show that a taxpayer’s actions go beyond simple negligence in order for that person to be convicted of fraud or tax evasion. The burden of proof rests solely with the government; it is the duty of government investigators to gather and present evidence that establishes their case. In tax cases, this takes the form of proving that deductions, statements, and supporting documents such as receipts and canceled checks that were filed with tax returns were purposely filed with the intent of illegally reducing the defendant’s tax liability.
In criminal tax trials, as in all trials, individual defendants are presumed innocent; they do not have a burden to prove their innocence. Indeed, the Fifth Amendment allows them to remain silent throughout a trial, and they are not required to present evidence countering the government’s claims. However, this privilege is not extended to partnerships or to corporations.
Judges’ Instructions on Reasonable Doubt
The judge will instruct the jury to consider all of the evidence presented in the case and determine whether or not it affirms the prosecution’s claim that a crime has been committed. Judges will instruct the jury that they may not find a defendant guilty if the evidence does not do this and there exists reasonable doubt that the individual is innocent. However, the judge walks a fine line when instructing the jury as to the definition of reasonable doubt. In cases where the judge’s instructions go beyond the basic definition, appellate courts have overturned verdicts and the Supreme Court has ruled that doing so violates the Due Process Clause of the US Constitution.
The Role of an FTC Attorney
Prior to trial, an FTC attorney will review the evidence that the government has collected to establish its case. The attorney will seek to determine that the information was appropriately collected and that the individual’s rights were not violated during this process. Moreover, the attorney will examine the government’s claims and prepare an appropriate defense for the defendant’s actions. Individuals facing civil or criminal charges should meet promptly with an FTC attorney to review the government’s claims and the facts of the case.
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