At Paulson's misdemeanor theft trial, the judge did not give the jury the reasonable doubt definition that Geesa v. State (1) requires. Although Paulson neither requested the jury instruction nor objected to its omission at trial, he argued on appeal that Geesa and Reyes v. State (2) require reversal. The Court of Appeals "reluctantly" agreed and remanded the case for a new trial. (3) The State now asks us to reconsider Reyes and portions of Geesa. We overrule that part of our decision in Geesa that required an instruction on the definition of reasonable doubt. We also overrule Reyes in its entirety.
In our 1991 Geesa decision, we held for the first time that trial courts must define reasonable doubt in their jury charges. (4) Until then, we had neither required nor encouraged any reasonable doubt instruction at all. (5) On the contrary, we had said that "the language of the statute on reasonable doubt needs no amplification or attempt on the part of the trial court to explain the term." (6) Furthermore, we had said that since the term had a commonly accepted meaning, "[i]t is not proper for the court to discuss what reasonable doubt is. The jury is as competent to determine that as the court." (7)
Despite over one hundred years of precedent to the contrary, we nevertheless held in Geesa that a definition was not only permissible, but mandatory. Then in 1996, we held that whether it is requested or not, failure to submit the Geesa instruction to the jury constitutes "automatic reversible error," (8) thereby making it immune from harm analysis.
In the years since Geesa, judges on this Court have expressed their reservations about the reasonable doubt instruction. Judge Meyers stated in his concurring opinion in Reyes that automatic reversal could not "be avoided after our unequivocal language in Geesa v. State . . . Such a result may, however, compel a majority of this Court to reexamine Geesa in the future and, were that to happen, I might very well join them in that endeavor." (9) Two years later, Judge Womack also expressed dissatisfaction with the Geesa instruction in his concurring opinion in State v. Toney. (10) Judge Womack noted that the instruction was "unnecessary and confusing, the justification [Geesa] gave for requiring an instruction was fallacious, and [the instruction] was not a legitimate exercise of the judicial function." (11)
We should not frivolously overrule established precedent. We follow the doctrine of stare decisis to promote judicial efficiency and consistency, encourage reliance on judicial decisions, and contribute to the integrity of the judicial process. (12) But if we conclude that one of our previous decisions was poorly reasoned or is unworkable, we do not achieve these goals by continuing to follow it. (13) Our decision in Geesa requiring trial courts to instruct juries on the definition of reasonable doubt was poorly reasoned.
The six paragraph jury instruction mandated by Geesa (14) is the essence of redundancy. The following quotation is distilled from that instruction:
"[No] person may be convicted of an offense unless each element is proved beyond a reasonable doubt...The presumption of innocence alone is sufficient to acquit the defendant, unless the jurors are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt...The prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant guilty, and it must do so by proving each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, and if it fails to do so, you must acquit the defendant...It is required that the prosecution's proof excludes all 'reasonable doubt' concerning the defendant's guilt...In the event you have a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt...you will acquit him and say by your verdict 'Not guilty.'"
If repetition were Geesa's only flaw, perhaps we could continue to follow it. But the required jury instruction goes further. It attempts to define reasonable doubt three times:
The first definition is useless. It is like saying "A white horse is a horse that is white." The second definition and what purports to be the third definition are more troubling because the use of "hesitation" is ambiguous.
In addition, the third "definition" is not really a definition at all. Instead, it is a fallacious application of the second definition. The court says that reasonable doubt makes you hesitate to act; therefore, if you hesitate to act, you have a reasonable doubt. That is like saying, "Pneumonia makes you cough; therefore, if you cough, you have pneumonia." This is the logical fallacy called "affirming the consequent."
If a conscientious juror reads the Geesa charge and follows it literally, he or she will never convict anyone. Considerations utterly foreign to reasonable doubt might make a person hesitate to act. The gravity of the decision and the severity of its consequences should make one pause and hesitate before doing even what is clearly and undoubtedly the right thing to do. Judgments that brand men and women as criminals, and take their money, their liberty, or their lives are deadly serious. They are decisions that make us hesitate if we have any human feelings or sensitivity at all. So to convict, a juror must either ignore the definition, refuse to follow it, or stretch it to say something it does not say.
The Geesa court said that Jackson v. Virginia (15) and Holland v. United States (16) "implicated the requirement of a full definitional instruction to the jury on reasonable doubt." (17) But in 1994, the Supreme Court held in Victor v. Nebraska, (18) that "the Constitution neither prohibits trial courts from defining reasonable doubt nor requires them to do so as a matter of course." (19) Citing Jackson v. Virginia, the Court concluded, "indeed, so long as the court instructs the jury on the necessity that the defendant's guilt be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the Constitution does not require that any particular form of words be used in advising the jury of the government's burden of proof." (20) It is ill-advised for us to require trial courts to provide the jury with a redundant, confusing, and logically-flawed definition when the Constitution does not require it, no Texas statute mandates it, and over a hundred years of pre-Geesa Texas precedent discourages it.
We specifically overrule that portion of Geesa which requires trial courts to instruct juries on the definition of "beyond a reasonable doubt." We also overrule Reyes. We find that the better practice is to give no definition of reasonable doubt at all to the jury. (21) On the other hand, if both the State and the defense were to agree to give the Geesa instruction to the jury, it would not constitute reversible error for the trial court to acquiesce to their agreement. We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals' decision and affirm the judgment of the trial court.
DATE DELIVERED: October 4, 2000
All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that a person has been arrested , confined, or indicted for, or otherwise charged with, the offense gives rise to no inference of guilt at his trial. The law does not require a defendant to prove his innocence or produce any evidence at all. The presumption of innocence alone is sufficient to acquit the defendant, unless the jurors are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt after a careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence in the case.
The prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant guilty and it must do so by proving each and every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, and if it fails to do so, you must acquit the defendant.
It is not required that the prosecution prove guilt beyond all possible doubt; it is required that the prosecution's proof excludes all "reasonable doubt" concerning the defendant's guilt.
A "reasonable doubt" is a doubt based on reason and common sense after a careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence in the case. It is the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act in the most important of his own affairs.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore, must be proof of such a convincing character that you would be willing to rely and act upon it without hesitation in the most important of your own affairs.
In the event you have a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt after considering all the evidence before you and these instructions, you will acquit him and say by your verdict "Not guilty."
Geesa v. State, 820 S.W.2d 154, 162 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991).
1. 820 S.W.2d 154 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991).
2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21.
2.938 S.W.2d 718 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996).
3.Paulson v. State, 991 S.W.2d 907 (Tex. App. -- Houston [14th Dist.] 1999).
4.820 S.W.2d at 162.
5.Marquez v. State, 725 S.W.2d 217, 241 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987); Pierce v. State, 159 Tex. Crim. 504, 265 S.W.2d 601, 602 (1954); Marshall v. State, 76 Tex. Crim. 386, 175 S.W. 154, 155 (1915).
6.Whitson v. State, 495 S.W.2d 944, 946 (Tex. Crim. App. 1973).
7.Abram v. State, 36 Tex.Crim. 44, 45, 35 S.W. 389, 390 (1896).
8.Reyes, 938 S.W.2d at 721.
9.Reyes, 938 S.W.2d at 722 (Meyers, J., concurring).
10.979 S.W.2d 642 (Tex. Crim. App.1998)(Womack, J. , with three judges, concurring).
11.Id. at 650.
12.See Proctor v. State, 967 S.W.2d 840, 845 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).
15.443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).
16.348 U.S. 121, 75 S.Ct. 127, 99 L.Ed. 150 (1954).
17.820 S.W.2d at 161.
18.511 U.S. 1, 114 S.Ct. 1239, 127 L.Ed.2d 583 (1994).
19.Id. at 5, 114 S.Ct. at 1243.
21.See "Reasonable Doubt: An Argument Against Definition," 108 Harv. L. Rev. 1955.