Understanding Probable Cause and Reasonable Doubt in Colorado: What’s the Difference?

Criminal cases in Colorado involve one of two different standards, depending on which phase the case is in. They are known, respectively, as “probable cause” and “reasonable doubt.”

The probable cause standard applies to earlier phases in the criminal process, like search and arrest warrants and the preliminary hearing. In order to issue a warrant or “bind over” a defendant for a criminal trial, probable cause must exist. Probable cause consists of facts or circumstances that would make a reasonable person think a crime had probably been committed. Probable cause doesn’t require certainty, but it does require more than a mere suspicion or a hunch.


The reasonable doubt standard applies during a criminal trial. You may have heard it said that criminal cases must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Beyond a reasonable doubt doesn’t mean beyond all possible doubt, but it does mean a fair, honest doubt based on reason and common sense.

It is the prosecutor’s responsibility in a Colorado criminal trial to prove every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant does not have to prove his or her innocence, but facts that demonstrate reasonable doubt are frequently included in a criminal defense case.

If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges in Colorado, the skilled El Paso County criminal defense lawyers at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. can help. For a free and confidential discussion with our attorneys about your situation, call us today at (719) 475-2555.

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