The Standard of Proof in Criminal Proceedings: the Threshold to Prove Guilt under Ethiopian Law

Author:HA Zemichael
Position:LL.B (AAU), The author can be reached at hmajirans@gmail.com - Jeremy Bentham (quoted in Terence Anderson, David A. Schum, William Twining (2005), Analysis of Evidence 2nd Ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 228.
Pages:84-116
SUMMARY

The standard of proof plays a vital role in the process of administration of justice. In criminal proceedings, the standard stipulates the degree to which the party who has the burden of proof needs to establish the facts constituting the elements of the crime. This article gives an overview of the meaning and scope of the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard and subsequently argues that this... (see full summary)

 
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The Standard of Proof in Criminal
Proceedings: the Threshold to Prove Guilt
under Ethiopian Law
Hanna Arayaselassie Zemichael
Abstract
The standard of proof plays a vital role in the process of administration of
justice. In criminal proceedings, the standard stipulates the degree to which the
party who has the burden of proof needs to establish the facts consti tuting the
elements of the crime. This article gives an overview of the meaning and scope
of the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard and subsequently argues that this
standard is adopted in the Ethiopian legal system although it is nowhere clearly
stated. It discusses the normative legal framework from which this standard can
be inferred. It then explores the practice of the Federal Supreme Court
Cassation Division by summarizing and analyzing cases most pertinent to the
issue of standard of proof.
Key words
Standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt, criminal proceedings, Ethiopia
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v8i1.3
“Certainty, absolute certainty, is a satisfaction which on every ground of inquiry
we are continually grasping at, but which the inexorable nature of things has
placed forever out of reach. Practical certainty, a degree of assurance sufficient
for practice, is a blessing, the attainment of which, as often as it lies in our way
to attain it, may be sufficient to console us under the want of any such
superfluous and unattainable acquisitions”. - Jeremy Bentham♣♣
______________
Introduction
The standard of proof, along with other basic notions in the law of evidence,
plays a vital role in the process of administration of justice. The process of
adjudication necessitates the settlement of facts of the case and this is to be
ascertained through the introduction of evidence from which the court may draw
warranted inferences. While decision-making based on facts is a common
LL.B (AAU), The author can be reached at hmajirans@gmail.com
♣♣ Jeremy Bentham (quoted in Terence Anderson, David A. Schum, William Twining
(2005), Analysis of Evidence 2nd Ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p.
228.
The Standard of Proof in Criminal Proceedings … under Ethiopian Law 85
phenomenon in everyday life, the legal system lays down a number of rules
governing the decision-making process so as to ensure that the system facilitates
correct decisions at least most of the time.
The Ethiopian legal system nowhere clearly states the requisite standard of
proof in criminal proceedings. With such a gap in the normative framework, the
understanding of this standard is as diverse as the courts themselves resulting in
divergent outcomes of cases. This article aims at exploring the meaning and
scope of the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt standard’ and how it found its way
into the Ethiopian legal system. It also looks into policy instruments and draft
documents to determine the general direction towards which the legal system is
headed as far as the standard of proof is concerned. Giving a detailed account of
selected decisions of the Cassation Bench of the Federal Supreme Court, the
article provides a comprehensive account of the jurisprudence of this Court on
the issue.
The first section discusses the meaning of the beyond a reasonable doubt
standard drawing from the experience of other countries that apply the same
standard. It also explores the effect of affirmative defenses and presumptions on
the scope of the standard. After a look at various legislations, the second section
then argues that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ is the standard impliedly included
in the Ethiopian legal system. The third section provides a brief overview of
legal presumptions in Ethiopian criminal law with a view to determine whether
and to what extent such presumptions affect the burden and standard of proof in
criminal proceedings. The practice of courts in Ethiopia, particularly that of the
Federal Supreme Court, Cassation Division is discussed in the fourth section by
analyzing selected cases that are most pertinent to the issue. It notes that the
practice is divergent and inconsistent with the normative framework.
1. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Standard
This section explores the meaning of the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. It
gives an overview of the prevalent formulations of the standard under the US
legal system and the criticisms leveled against each after which a discussion of
affirmative defenses and presumptions follow.
1.1 Meaning
The beyond a reasonable doubt standard was developed from the realization
that in human affairs what can be achieved at best is ‘moral certainty’- as
opposed to ‘full certainty’ as in mathematics or logic.1 When it comes to moral
certainty, what is required is not proof beyond all doubt, but rather establishing
1 Larry Laudan (2006), Truth, Error and Criminal Law: An Essay in Legal
Epistemology, (New York: Cambridge University Press), p. 32.
86 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 8, No.1 September 2014
the fact as firm and settled with the help of the presented evidence and
testimony. Among the different theories and formulations surrounding the
beyond a reasonable doubt standard, Larry Laudan has identified five
formulations, discussed them as the major variations and identified the problems
with each.2
a) Analogy with important life decisions:
According to this formulation, beyond a reasonable doubt is compared with
important decisions one has to make in everyday life. Laudan criticizes this
formulation by pointing out that in almost all important life decisions, people act
despite the fact that there are reasonable doubts.3 The degree of doubt that is
considered acceptable under the beyond a reasonable doubt standard is much
lesser than what people entertain in their private decisions no matter how
important. Thus equating the beyond a reasonable doubt standard with making
important life decisions is erroneous because it would amount to allowing a
guilty verdict despite the existence of reasonable doubt.
b) Doubt that would make a prudent person hesitate to act:
Instead of describing what belief beyond reasonable doubt is, this test attempts
to explain what a ‘reasonable doubt’ is. Accordingly, a reasonable doubt is
described as a doubt that would cause a prudent person to hesitate to act on that
belief (as opposed to the kind of doubt despite which you would act without
hesitation). This analogy can be criticized for the same reason as the first since
one may hesitate to act in an important affair not only when there are reasonable
grounds. It has also been criticized for being too vague in its formulation.4
c) An abiding conviction of guilt:
This is very similar with the historical ‘moral certainty’ formulation. The literal
meaning of the word ‘abiding’ envisages that the fact-finder must believe in the
2 This section of the discussion is based on what is presented by Laudan who outlined
the various definitions in his book drawing from the experience of US courts in jury
instructions on the standard of proof and the decisions of appellate courts on the issue.
For a detailed discussion of each of the definitions see Id, pp. 34-51.
3 Id., p. 36.
4 After citing this standard, one judge has written “I was always bemused by its
ambiguity. If the jurors encounter a doubt that would cause them to "hesitate to act in
a matter of importance," what are they to do then? Should they decline to convict
because they have reached a point of hesitation, or should they simply hesitate, then
ask themselves whether, in their own private matters, they would resolve the doubt in
favor of action, and, if so, continue on to convict?”, See, Jon O. Newman (1993),
“Beyond “Reasonable Doubt””, New York University Law Review, Vol. 68, No. 5, p.
4.

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