MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Constitutional questions decided by this Court concerning the juvenile process have centered on the adjudicatory stage at "which a determination is made as to
Section 712 of the New York Family Court Act defines a juvenile delinquent as "a person over seven and less than sixteen years of age who does any act which, if done by an adult, would constitute a crime." During a 1967 adjudicatory hearing, conducted pursuant to § 742 of the Act, a judge in New York Family Court
The requirement that guilt of a criminal charge be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt dates at least from our early years as a Nation. The "demand for a higher degree of persuasion in criminal cases was recurrently expressed from ancient times, [though] its crystallization into the formula `beyond a reasonable doubt' seems to have occurred as late as 1798. It is now accepted in common law jurisdictions as the measure of persuasion by which the prosecution must convince the trier of all the essential elements of guilt." C. McCormick, Evidence § 321, pp. 681-682 (1954); see also 9 J. Wigmore, Evidence § 2497 (3d ed. 1940). Although virtually unanimous adherence to the reasonable-doubt standard in common-law jurisdictions may not conclusively establish it as a requirement of due process, such adherence does "reflect a profound judgment about the
Expressions in many opinions of this Court indicate that it has long been assumed that proof of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt is constitutionally required. See, for example, Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304, 312 (1881); Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 488 (1895); Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245, 253 (1910); Wilson v. United States, 232 U.S. 563, 569-570 (1914); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 174 (1949); Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 795 (1952); Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 138 (1954); Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 525-526 (1958). Cf. Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432 (1895). Mr. Justice Frankfurter stated that "[i]t is the duty of the Government to establish . . . guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This notion—basic in our law and rightly one of the boasts of a free society—is a requirement and a safeguard of due process of law in the historic, procedural content of `due process.' " Leland v. Oregon, supra, at 802-803 (dissenting opinion). In a similar vein, the Court said in Brinegar v. United States, supra, at 174, that "[g]uilt in a criminal case must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and by evidence confined to that which long experience in the common-law tradition, to some extent embodied in the Constitution, has crystallized into rules of evidence consistent with that standard. These rules are historically grounded rights of our system, developed to safeguard men from dubious and unjust convictions, with resulting forfeitures of life, liberty and property." Davis v. United States, supra, at 488, stated that the requirement is implicit in "constitutions. . . [which] recognize the fundamental principles that are deemed essential for the protection of life and liberty." In Davis a murder conviction was
The reasonable-doubt standard plays a vital role in the American scheme of criminal procedure. It is a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error. The standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock "axiomatic and elementary" principle whose "enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law." Coffin v. United States, supra, at 453. As the dissenters in the New York Court of Appeals observed, and we agree, "a person accused of a crime . . . would be at a severe disadvantage, a disadvantage amounting to a lack of fundamental fairness, if he could be adjudged guilty and imprisoned for years on the strength of the same evidence as would suffice in a civil case." 24 N. Y. 2d, at 205, 247 N. E. 2d, at 259.
The requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has this vital role in our criminal procedure for cogent reasons. The accused during a criminal prosecution has at stake interests of immense importance, both because of the possibility that he may lose his liberty upon conviction and because of the certainty that he would be stigmatized by the conviction. Accordingly, a society
Moreover, use of the reasonable-doubt standard is indispensable to command the respect and confidence of the community in applications of the criminal law. It is critical that the moral force of the criminal law not be diluted by a standard of proof that leaves people in doubt whether innocent men are being condemned. It is also important in our free society that every individual going about his ordinary affairs have confidence that his government cannot adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper factfinder of his guilt with utmost certainty.
Lest there remain any doubt about the constitutional stature of the reasonable-doubt standard, we explicitly hold that the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.
We turn to the question whether juveniles, like adults, are constitutionally entitled to proof beyond a reasonable doubt when they are charged with violation of a criminal law. The same considerations that demand extreme caution in factfinding to protect the innocent adult apply as well to the innocent child. We do not find convincing the contrary arguments of the New York Court of Appeals. Gault rendered untenable much of the reasoning relied upon by that court to sustain the constitutionality of § 744 (b). The Court of Appeals indicated that a delinquency adjudication "is not a `conviction' (§ 781); that it affects no right or privilege, including the right to hold public office or to obtain a license (§ 782); and a cloak of protective confidentiality is thrown around all the proceedings (§§ 783-784)." 24 N. Y. 2d, at 200, 247 N. E. 2d, at 255-256. The court said further: "The delinquency status is not made a crime; and the proceedings are not criminal. There is, hence, no deprivation of due process in the statutory provision [challenged by appellant] . . . ." 24 N. Y. 2d, at 203, 247 N. E. 2d, at 257. In effect the Court of Appeals distinguished the proceedings in question here from a criminal prosecution by use of what Gault called the " `civil' label-of-convenience which has been attached to juvenile proceedings." 387 U. S., at 50. But Gault expressly rejected that distinction as a reason for holding the Due Process Clause inapplicable to a juvenile proceeding. 387 U. S., at 50-51. The Court of Appeals also attempted to justify the preponderance standard on the related ground that juvenile proceedings are designed "not to punish, but to save the child." 24 N. Y. 2d, at 197, 247 N. E. 2d, at 254. Again, however, Gault expressly rejected this justification. 387 U. S., at 27. We made clear in that decision that civil labels and good
Nor do we perceive any merit in the argument that to afford juveniles the protection of proof beyond a reasonable doubt would risk destruction of beneficial aspects of the juvenile process.
The Court of Appeals observed that "a child's best interest is not necessarily, or even probably, promoted if he wins in the particular inquiry which may bring him to the juvenile court." 24 N. Y. 2d, at 199, 247 N. E. 2d, at 255. It is true, of course, that the juvenile may be engaging in a general course of conduct inimical to his welfare that calls for judicial intervention. But that intervention cannot take the form of subjecting the child to the stigma of a finding that he violated a criminal law
We conclude, as we concluded regarding the essential due process safeguards applied in Gault, that the observance of the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt "will not compel the States to abandon or displace any of the substantive benefits of the juvenile process." Gault, supra, at 21.
Finally, we reject the Court of Appeals' suggestion that there is, in any event, only a "tenuous difference" between the reasonable-doubt and preponderance standards. The suggestion is singularly unpersuasive. In this very case, the trial judge's ability to distinguish between the two standards enabled him to make a finding of guilt that he conceded he might not have made under the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, the trial judge's action evidences the accuracy of the observation of commentators that "the preponderance test is susceptible to the misinterpretation
In sum, the constitutional safeguard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is as much required during the adjudicatory stage of a delinquency proceeding as are those constitutional safeguards applied in Gault—notice of charges, right to counsel, the rights of confrontation and examination, and the privilege against self-incrimination. We therefore hold, in agreement with Chief Judge Fuld in dissent in the Court of Appeals, "that, where a 12-year-old child is charged with an act of stealing which renders him liable to confinement for as long as six years, then, as a matter of due process . . . the case against him must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt." 24 N. Y. 2d, at 207, 247 N. E. 2d, at 260.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.
No one, I daresay, would contend that state juvenile court trials are subject to no federal constitutional limitations. Differences have existed, however, among the members of this Court as to what constitutional protections do apply. See In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).
Professor Wigmore, in discussing the various attempts by courts to define how convinced one must be to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, wryly observed: "The truth is that no one has yet invented or discovered a mode of measurement for the intensity of human belief. Hence there can be yet no successful method of communicating intelligibly . . . a sound method of self-analysis for one's belief," 9 J. Wigmore, Evidence 325 (3d ed. 1940).
Notwithstanding Professor Wigmore's skepticism, we have before us a case where the choice of the standard of proof has made a difference: the juvenile court judge below forthrightly acknowledged that he believed by a preponderance of the evidence, but was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, that appellant stole $112 from the complainant's pocketbook. Moreover, even though the labels used for alternative standards of proof are
To explain why I think this so, I begin by stating two propositions, neither of which I believe can be fairly disputed. First, in a judicial proceeding in which there is a dispute about the facts of some earlier event, the factfinder cannot acquire unassailably accurate knowledge of what happened. Instead, all the factfinder can acquire is a belief of what probably happened. The intensity of this belief—the degree to which a factfinder is convinced that a given act actually occurred—can, of course, vary. In this regard, a standard of proof represents an attempt to instruct the factfinder concerning the degree of confidence our society thinks he should have in the correctness of factual conclusions for a particular type of adjudication. Although the phrases "preponderance of the evidence" and "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" are quantitatively imprecise, they do communicate to the finder of fact different notions concerning the degree of confidence he is expected to have in the correctness of his factual conclusions.
A second proposition, which is really nothing more than a corollary of the first, is that the trier of fact will sometimes, despite his best efforts, be wrong in his factual conclusions. In a lawsuit between two parties, a factual error can make a difference in one of two ways. First, it can result in a judgment in favor of the plaintiff when the true facts warrant a judgment for the defendant. The analogue in a criminal case would be the conviction
The standard of proof influences the relative frequency of these two types of erroneous outcomes. If, for example, the standard of proof for a criminal trial were a preponderance of the evidence rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, there would be a smaller risk of factual errors that result in freeing guilty persons, but a far greater risk of factual errors that result in convicting the innocent. Because the standard of proof affects the comparative frequency of these two types of erroneous outcomes, the choice of the standard to be applied in a particular kind of litigation should, in a rational world, reflect an assessment of the comparative social disutility of each.
When one makes such an assessment, the reason for different standards of proof in civil as opposed to criminal litigation becomes apparent. In a civil suit between two private parties for money damages, for example, we view it as no more serious in general for there to be an erroneous verdict in the defendant's favor than for there to be an erroneous verdict in the plaintiff's favor. A preponderance of the evidence standard therefore seems peculiarly appropriate for, as explained most sensibly,
In a criminal case, on the other hand, we do not view the social disutility of convicting an innocent man as equivalent to the disutility of acquitting someone who is guilty. As MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN wrote for the Court in Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 525-526 (1958):
In this context, I view the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case as bottomed on a fundamental value determination of our society that it is far worse to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free. It is only because of the nearly complete and long-standing acceptance of the reasonable-doubt standard by the States in criminal trials that the Court has not before today had to hold explicitly that due process, as an expression of fundamental procedural fairness,
When one assesses the consequences of an erroneous factual determination in a juvenile delinquency proceeding in which a youth is accused of a crime, I think it must be concluded that, while the consequences are
I wish to emphasize, as I did in my separate opinion in Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 65, that there is no automatic congruence
With these observations, I join the Court's opinion, subject only to the constitutional reservations expressed in my opinion in Gault.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, with whom MR. JUSTICE STEWART joins, dissenting.
The Court's opinion today rests entirely on the assumption that all juvenile proceedings are "criminal prosecutions," hence subject to constitutional limitations. This derives from earlier holdings, which, like today's
Much of the judicial attitude manifested by the Court's opinion today and earlier holdings in this field is really a protest against inadequate juvenile court staffs and facilities; we "burn down the stable to get rid of the mice." The lack of support and the distressing growth of juvenile crime have combined to make for a literal breakdown in many if not most juvenile courts. Constitutional problems were not seen while those courts functioned in an atmosphere where juvenile judges were not crushed with an avalanche of cases.
My hope is that today's decision will not spell the end of a generously conceived program of compassionate treatment intended to mitigate the rigors and trauma of exposing youthful offenders to a traditional criminal court; each step we take turns the clock back to the pre-juvenile-court era. I cannot regard it as a manifestation of progress to transform juvenile courts into criminal courts, which is what we are well on the way to accomplishing. We can only hope the legislative response will not reflect our own by having these courts abolished.
The majority states that "many opinions of this Court indicate that it has long been assumed that proof of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt is constitutionally required." Ante, at 362. I have joined in some of those opinions, as well as the dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Frankfurter in Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 802 (1952). The Court has never clearly held, however, that proof beyond a reasonable doubt is either expressly or impliedly commanded by any provision of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, which in my view is made fully applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, see Adamson v. California, 332 U.S. 46, 71-75 (1947) (dissenting opinion), does by express language provide for, among other things, a right to counsel in criminal trials, a right to indictment, and the right of a defendant to be informed of the nature of the charges against him.
Our Constitution provides that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
"Due process of law" was originally used as a shorthand expression for governmental proceedings according to the "law of the land" as it existed at the time of those proceedings. Both phrases are derived from the laws of England and have traditionally been regarded as meaning the same thing. The Magna Carta provided that:
Later English statutes reinforced and confirmed these basic freedoms. In 1350 a statute declared that "it is contained in the Great Charter of the Franchises of England, that none shall be imprisoned nor put out of his Freehold, nor of his Franchises nor free Custom, unless it be by the Law of the Land . . . ."
Drawing on these and other sources, Lord Coke, in 1642, concluded that "due process of law" was synonymous with the phrase "by law of the land."
While it is thus unmistakably clear that "due process of law" means according to "the law of the land," this Court has not consistently defined what "the law of the
Later in Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78 (1908), Mr. Justice Moody, again speaking for the Court, reaffirmed that "due process of law" meant "by law of the
In those words is found the kernel of the "natural law due process" notion by which this Court frees itself from the limits of a written Constitution and sets itself loose to declare any law unconstitutional that "shocks its conscience," deprives a person of "fundamental fairness," or violates the principles "implicit in the concept of
In my view both Mr. Justice Curtis and Mr. Justice Moody gave "due process of law" an unjustifiably broad interpretation. For me the only correct meaning of that phrase is that our Government must proceed according to the "law of the land"—that is, according to written constitutional and statutory provisions as interpreted by court decisions. The Due Process Clause, in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, in and of itself does not add to those provisions, but in effect states that our governments are governments of law and constitutionally bound to act only according to law.
For years our ancestors had struggled in an attempt to bring England under one written constitution, consolidating in one place all the threads of the fundamental law of that nation. They almost succeeded in that attempt,
It can be, and has been, argued that when this Court strikes down a legislative act because it offends the idea of "fundamental fairness," it furthers the basic thrust of our Bill of Rights by protecting individual freedom.
I admit a strong, persuasive argument can be made for a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases—and the majority has made that argument well—but it is not for me as a judge to say for that reason that Congress or the States are without constitutional power to establish another standard that the Constitution does not otherwise forbid. It is quite true that proof beyond a reasonable doubt has long been required in federal criminal trials. It is also true that
Counsel: "Your Honor is making a finding by the preponderance of the evidence."
Court: "Well, it convinces me."
Counsel: "It's not beyond a reasonable doubt, Your Honor."
Court: "That is true . . . . Our statute says a preponderance and a preponderance it is."
Legislative adoption of the reasonable-doubt standard has been urged by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and by the Children's Bureau of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's Social and Rehabilitation Service. See Uniform Juvenile Court Act § 29 (b) (1968); Children's Bureau, Social and Rehabilitation Service, U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Legislative Guide for Drafting Family and Juvenile Court Acts § 32 (c) (1969). Cf. the proposal of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency that a "clear and convincing" standard be adopted. Model Rules for Juvenile Courts, Rule 26, p. 57 (1969). See generally Cohen, The Standard of Proof in Juvenile Proceedings: Gault Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, 68 Mich. L. Rev. 567 (1970).
"A determination that the New York law unconstitutionally denies due process because it does not provide for use of the reasonable doubt standard probably would not have a serious impact if all that resulted would be a change in the quantum of proof."
And Dorsen & Rezneck, supra, at 27, have observed:
"[T]he reasonable doubt test is superior to all others in protecting against an unjust adjudication of guilt, and that is as much a concern of the juvenile court as of the criminal court. It is difficult to see how the distinctive objectives of the juvenile court give rise to a legitimate institutional interest in finding a juvenile to have committed a violation of the criminal law on less evidence than if he were an adult."
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN continues to insist that uncontroverted scholarly research shows that the Fourteenth Amendment did not incorporate the Bill of Rights as limitations on the States. See Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 540 (1961) (dissenting opinion); Griswold v. Connecticut, supra, at 500 (concurring in judgment); ante, at 372-373, n. 5. I cannot understand that conclusion. Mr. Fairman, in the article repeatedly cited by MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, surveys the legislative history and concludes that it is his opinion that the amendment did not incorporate the Bill of Rights. Mr. Flack, in at least an equally "scholarly" writing, surveys substantially the same documents relied upon by Mr. Fairman and concludes that a prime objective of Congress in proposing the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment was "[t]o make the Bill of Rights (the first eight Amendments) binding upon, or applicable to, the States." Compare H. Flack, The Adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment 94 (1908), with Fairman, Does the Fourteenth Amendment Incorporate the Bill of Rights? The Original Understanding, 2 Stan. L. Rev. 5 (1949). It is, of course, significant that since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment this Court has held almost all the provisions of the Bill of Rights applicable to the States: the First Amendment, e. g., Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925), Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940), Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963); the Fourth Amendment, Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961); the Fifth Amendment, Chicago B. & Q. R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U.S. 226 (1897), Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964), Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784 (1969); the Sixth Amendment, Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400 (1965), Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213 (1967), Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968); and the Eighth Amendment, Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962). To me this history indicates that in the end Mr. Flack's thesis has fared much better than Mr. Fairman's "uncontroverted" scholarship.