Beyond 'reasonable doubt': The criminal standard of proof instruction as communicative act


  • Chris Heffer Cardiff University



Jury instruction, Standard of Proof, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, Communication with Jurors, Comprehension of Legal Instructions, Judicial Language


If juries are to bring in just verdicts in criminal trials, they need to understand the criminal standard of proof – beyond reasonable doubt – and apply it to the evidence they have heard in court. Yet courts have been notoriously ineffective in communicating that standard to lay jurors. This paper locates the problem not so much in specific wordings as in the entire paradigm of ‘instruction as legal text’ under which courts have tended to operate. After illustrating the effects of this paradigm on Judge Ito’s instruction in the O. J. Simpson criminal trial, the paper calls for a paradigm shift. It thus reinterprets the criminal standard as a communicative act, beginning with the message to be conveyed, some necessary conditions for conveying that message to the jury, and the role of the judge in delivering the message. The paper concludes with some recommendations for communicating the standard of proof instruction effectively.

Author Biography

Chris Heffer, Cardiff University

Centre for Language and Communication Research Chris Heffer lectures in the Centre for Language and Communication Research, Cardiff University, Wales, where he is currently co-director of the MA in Forensic Linguistics programme. His primary research interests concern communication with juries during all stages of the trial process and his goal is to help effect reform in this area. More generally, he is interested in describing the nature of legal language and understanding the construction of narrative in court. His book The Language of Jury Trial (Palgrave 2005) is reviewed in this issue of the journal. Department of English, Communication and Philosophy Cardiff University, Humanities Building Colum Drive Cardiff CF10 3EU



How to Cite

Heffer, C. (2006). Beyond ’reasonable doubt’: The criminal standard of proof instruction as communicative act. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 13(2), 159–188.




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