Beyond the shadow of a doubt
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, or beyond a shadow of a doubt, is a standard of proof. The phrase means the issue in question is so obvious, or has been so thoroughly proven, that there can exist no doubt. Two possible interpretations of "Beyond a shadow" might refer, first, to the fact that doubt could be nowhere in the vicinity (completely expelled from the issue), or second, to the thoroughness of the argument (a shadow being even less substantial than a doubt itself).

Burden of proof

Beyond the shadow of a doubt is a standard of proof, and as such, falls along a continuum of certainty. An example of such a continuum might advance as follows:
  1. air of reality - only having the traces of truth
  2. preponderance of the evidence - it is more likely than not
  3. clear and convincing evidence - it is substantially more likely than not
  4. beyond a reasonable doubt
    Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
    Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a 1956 film directed by Fritz Lang and written by Douglas Morrow. The film, considered film noir, was the last American film directed by Lang.-Plot:...

     - no reasonable doubt could be raised
  5. beyond the shadow of a doubt - no doubt whatsoever could be raised

Interchangeability with reasonable doubt

Beyond the shadow of a doubt is sometimes used interchangeably, although mistakenly, with beyond a reasonable doubt
Reasonable doubt
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence required to validate a criminal conviction in most adversarial legal systems . Generally the prosecution bears the burden of proof and is required to prove their version of events to this standard...

, especially in courts of law. Some feel the former an impossible standard of proof in court, while the latter is more logically accommodating, allowing for the limits of human reason.

Scientific and philosophic perspectives

Beyond the shadow of doubt cannot be a scientific term because that level of certainty exists beyond the limits of science, i.e., because science depends on necessarily uncertain a posteriori knowledge, nothing in science could be beyond doubt. For this reason, one might find it useful to think of beyond the shadow of doubt as a metaphysical description.

Legal applications

Beyond the shadow of a doubt is not the standard of proof in criminal cases (beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard in common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 jurisdictions). It has some relevance in the debate on capital punishment
Capital punishment debate
The use of capital punishment, frequently known as the death penalty, is highly controversial.-Retribution:Supporters of the death penalty argued that death penalty is morally justified when applied in murder especially with aggravating elements such as multiple homicide, child murder, torture...

, where there is some support for making beyond the shadow of a doubt the standard required for the imposition of the death penalty in a capital case (the implication being that a defendant found guilty but only beyond a reasonable doubt would be convicted but could not be sentenced to death).


Beyond the shadow of a doubt, or beyond a shadow of a doubt appears to be a phrase that has grown up in the colloquial, predominantly from the simpler form "beyond a doubt," circa 1300.

Other notable uses of the exact phrase shadow of (a) doubt include:
  • popular news
    News is the communication of selected information on current events which is presented by print, broadcast, Internet, or word of mouth to a third party or mass audience.- Etymology :...

     print around 1820
  • The Scarlet Letter
    The Scarlet Letter
    The Scarlet Letter is an 1850 romantic work of fiction in a historical setting, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is considered to be his magnum opus. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an...

    , novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    Nathaniel Hawthorne
    Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

    , 1850.
  • The Gondoliers
    The Gondoliers
    The Gondoliers; or, The King of Barataria is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 7 December 1889 and ran for a very successful 554 performances , closing on 30 June 1891...

    , operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan
    Gilbert and Sullivan
    Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

    , 1889: “Of that there is no manner of doubt—no probable, possible shadow of doubt”
  • "The Trial by Existence", poem by Robert Frost
    Robert Frost
    Robert Lee Frost was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and...

    , 1915.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was instantly successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature...

    , novel by Harper Lee
    Harper Lee
    Nelle Harper Lee is an American author known for her 1960 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which deals with the issues of racism that were observed by the author as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama...

    , 1960, wherein Atticus Finch
    Atticus Finch
    Atticus Finch is a fictional character in Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus is a lawyer and resident of the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, and the father of Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch and Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. Atticus is a central character in the novel...

    states: "The law says 'reasonable doubt,' but I think a defendant's entitled to the shadow of a doubt. There's always the possibility, no matter how improbable, that he's innocent."
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