Saturday, October 29, 2005

admin. law - standard of proof - preponderance v. clear-and-convincing

Suber v. Pennsylvania Commn. on Crime & Delinquency -- Cmwlth. Court - October 28, 2005

Held, the proper standard of proof was "preponderance of the evidence" and not "clear and convincing" in a case involving the removal of a deputy sheriff from an educ./training program, based on allegations that he had cheated on an exam.

The standard of proof in a particular type of case is "based on the level of concern regarding the degree of accuracy in the factual findings made by the trier of fact...The traditional 'preponderance of the evidence' standard allows share equally in the risk in proving their claims and affirmative defenses. Any other standard expresses a preference for one side's interests."

In most civil and administrative actions, the proper standard of proof is "preponderance of the evidence." (citing cases). "Clear and convincing" is the highest standard of proof in civil law and is "reserved for cases 'where particularly important individual interests or rights are at stake....'" such as termination of parental rights, civil fraud, involuntary commitment, and public figure defamation.

Meeting the "clear and convincing" standard requires that the witnesses be found to be credible, the facts to which they have testified be remembered distinctly, and their testimony be so clear, direct, weighty and convincing as to enable the trier of fact to come to a clear conviction, without hesitancy, of the truth of the precise facts in issue.

The court found that this case was like Ruane v. Shippensburg Univ., 871 A.2d 859 (2005), in which it applied the preponderance standard in a matter involving the suspension of a student for sexual assault. It rejected the analogy to an attorney disbarment case in which the clear-and-convincing standard was applied, ODC v. Duffield, 644 A.2d 1186 (Pa. 1994).

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services