In dubio pro reo

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The page of the Egidio Bossi's treatise with the words ″in dubio pro reo″ on it.

The principle of in dubio pro reo (Latin for "[when] in doubt, for the accused")[1] means that a defendant may not be convicted by the court when doubts about his or her guilt remain.

It is often used specifically to refer to the principle of presumption of innocence that dictates that when a criminal statute allows more than one interpretation, the one that favours the defendant should be chosen.[2]


The main principle in the sentence was part of Aristotle's interpretation of the law and shaped the Roman law: Favorabiliores rei potius quam actores habentur (Digest of Justinian I, D.50.17.125);[3] in English: "The condition of the defendant is to be favored rather than that of the plaintiff."[4] However, it was not spelled out word for word until the Milanese jurist Egidio Bossi (1487–1546) related it in his treatises.

National peculiarities[edit]

In German law, the principle is not normalized, but is derived from Article 103(2) GG, Article 6 ECHR, as well as § 261 Code of Criminal Procedure. The principle has constitutional status. The common use of the phrase in the German legal tradition was documented in 1631 by Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld.

In Canadian law, the leading case establishing how to decide criminal cases where the guilt of the accused depends on contradictory witness accounts is R. v. W.(D.) (1991).

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