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WHAT REASONABLE DOUBT MEANS IN CRIMINAL TRIAL

Dictum

The term “Reasonable doubt” has not been defined in the definitions Section 2 of the Act, but its connotation has received many definitions from judicial authorities. For instance, the very famous and erudite Denning, J (later M.R.) in the case of MILLER V. MINISTER OF PENSIONS (1947) 2 ALL E.R. 372 said that- “It need not reach certainly, but it must carry a high degree of probability. Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of a doubt.” The term is therefore of common law origin and was incorporated in our law of evidence.
In the case of BAKARE V. STATE (1987) 579 @ 587, our own version of Denning, J and equally erudite and eloquent OPUTA, JSC put the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt thus:- “Proof beyond reasonable doubt stems out of the competing presumption of innocence inherent in our adversary system of criminal justice. To displace the presumption, the evidence of the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond the shadow of doubt that the person accused is guilty of the offence charged. Absolute certainty is impossible in any human adventure including administration of criminal justice. Proof beyond reasonable doubt means what it says. It does not admit of plausible and fanciful possibilities but it does admit of a high degree of cogency consistent with an equally high degree of probabilities.”

– M.L. Garba JCA. Odogwu v. Vivian (2009) – CA/PH/345/05

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RESOLVE DOUBT IN ACCUSED FAVOUR

There is no doubt whatsoever that from the conflicting evidence adduced by the prosecution as to how the deceased was killed, strong doubt had been raised from the evidence which the law requires to be resolved in favour of the appellant.

— M. Mohammed, JSC. Udosen v State (2007) – SC.199/2005

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PROOF BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT DENOTES PROOF TO MORAL CERTAINTY

Invariably, the term proof beyond reasonably as implored in Section 135 of the Evidence Act, denotes proof to moral certainty or standard. Thus, such proof as accords to the conscience of the trial judge as a reasonable Judge, that the crime so charged has indeed been committed by the defendant, thereby leaving no other reasonable conclusion possible.

– I.M.M. Saulawa JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)

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AN OFFENCE MUST BE PROVED BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT

A fortiori, by virtue of Section 138(1) of the Evidence Act, if the commission of an offence by a party is directly in issue in any criminal or civil proceeding, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

– Saulawa, JSC. Makanjuola v. State (2021)

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BURDEN OF PROOF “BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT” NEVER SHIFTS

It must always be borne in mind and this is settled, that the burden of proving that any person is guilty of a crime, rests on the prosecution. The cardinal principle of law, is that the commission of a crime by a party must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. This is the law laid down in section 138(1) of the Evidence Act. The burden never shifts. Therefore, if on the whole of the evidence, the court is left in a state of doubt (as I am in this instant case leading to this appeal), the prosecution would have failed to discharge the onus of proof which the law lays upon it and the prisoner/accused person, is entitled to an acquittal. See the cases of Alonge v. Inspector-General of Police (1959) 4 FSC 203, (1959) SCNLR 516; Fatoyinbo v. Attorney-General, Western Nigeria (1966) WNLR 4, and The State v. Musa Danjuma (1997) 5 SCNJ 126 at 136-137, 156; (1997) 5 NWLR (Pt. 506) 512.

— Ogbuagu, JSC. Udosen v State (2007) – SC.199/2005

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BETTER FOR TEN GUILTY PERSONS TO GO FREE THAN ONE INNOCENT SHOULD SUFFER

As we indicated in Stephen Ukorah v. The State (1977) 4S. C. 167 there is great need for a trial court to tread cautiously in the application of circumstantial evidence for the conviction of an accused for any offence with which he is charged. The Romans we pointed out, with approval, in Ukorah (Supra at p .177) had a maxim that it is better for a guilty person to go unpunished than for an innocent one to be condemned: and Sir Edward Seymour speaking on a Bill of Attainder in 1696 laid greater emphasis on this maxim when he stated that he would rather “that ten guilty persons should escape than one innocent should suffer.” That also was our view in Ukorah (Supra).

— Idigbe, JSC. Adie v. State (1980) – SC24/1978

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WHEN A CASE IS SAID TO BE PROVED BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT

It must however, be emphasized that the burden of proof of the guilt of an accused person beyond reasonable doubt by the Prosecution in criminal cases should not be taken to mean that the prosecution must sustain its case beyond every shadow of doubt. Absolute certainty is impossible in any human adventure including the administration of justice. Thus, once the Prosecution has been able to prove that an offence has been committed and that no person other than the accused committed the offence, the prosecution is said to have established its case beyond reasonable doubt.

– Abdu Aboki, JSC. Chukwu v. State (2021)

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