What is a Preponderance of Evidence?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Preponderance of evidence is a standard of proof used in many civil trials. The plaintiff has the burden of proof in such trials, and is required to prove under the preponderance of evidence standard that the events under discussion probably occurred as described. The facts of the case presented must be more convincing than the counterarguments presented by the opposing side. This is the lowest standard of proof and is generally not seen in criminal cases, where the stakes are much higher.

A preponderance of evidence would indicate guilt of a person with a bat near a broken window.
A preponderance of evidence would indicate guilt of a person with a bat near a broken window.

If someone files a claim and the respondent files a counterclaim, the burden of proof shifts to the respondent. Essentially, the person making an assertion about the need for a legal remedy is required to provide proof to back up the assertion and support the case. The plaintiff's information must be most likely true, as presented in court, and the defendant or respondent may be able to win the case by poking enough holes in the claim that it does not appear to be reasonably truthful.

Under the preponderance of evidence standard, the evidence presented must still have legal standing and integrity. While the standards for evidence in civil cases are much lower, people can be penalized for falsifying evidence and testifying incorrectly on the stand. The respondent has an opportunity to examine evidence to confirm its validity and can cross-examine people on the stand to collect more information. These legal rights in court allow people charged with civil or criminal crimes an opportunity to explore the basis of the charges and challenge them in front of the judge.

Plaintiffs attempt to demonstrate that the situation occurred more or less as they claim it did, and to show how their explanation for a series of events is the most likely one. For example, someone could sue for replacement of a broken window, saying a baseball flew through the window and when the person looked out, a person was standing outside with a catcher's glove. Even if no one witnessed the ball going through the window, the preponderance of evidence would seem to indicate the guilt of the person wearing the glove.

A slightly higher standard than the preponderance of evidence, known as clear and convincing evidence, requires people to not just demonstrate that something probably occurred as stated, but to show that the likelihood is very high. Under this standard, the facts of the case must appear demonstrably true. This higher standard is used in both civil and criminal cases when a judge feels it is merited. Finally, for serious criminal cases, people must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the facts of the case occurred as stated.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Preponderance simply means that an issue is probably more true than not. It's a call that a judge needs to take in light of all the evidence and arguments that are provided.


@ysmina-- I'm not an expert but I think that you have misunderstood preponderance of evidence.

Preponderance of evidence simply means that the majority of evidence points towards an argument. As the article said, this is obviously not a standard of proof such as proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But this is a fairly good and just way for a court to make a decision in civil trials.

For example, let's say that more than half of the evidence supports one party's claims in a case. As per preponderance of evidence, this is good enough for that party to win the case. Even though all of the evidence does not support their claim, most of the evidence does.


I'm not very knowledgeable about legal proceedings, so if there are any experts here, please correct me.

To me, preponderance of evidence does not seem very sound. I guess this is why this standard of proof is only used in not so serious legal cases. Proving that something "probably" occurred as it was described, is just not good enough. I realize that sometimes, there aren't witnesses to confirm that an event took place a certain way, who was present at the scene and who is responsible. But how can someone be assumed to be guilty when there is really no accurate proof?

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