This expression is used both in everyday language and in the legal context. In both cases it expresses a general idea: that in the face of suspicion about someone’s improper behavior, it is preferable not to judge beforehand. Benefit of the doubt
In other words, a person is given the benefit of the doubt when we don’t want to think badly about them in advance and decide to give them a margin of confidence. This principle expresses an ethical evaluation, as it is unfair to prejudge others based on personal assumptions or prejudices.
An example that illustrates in which context this expression can be used
Let’s imagine that we receive a visit from a neighbor we barely know who asks us for a small amount of money to attend to an emergency . Initially, we might think that it is unwise to lend the money, as we only know it by sight and it is risky to trust someone with whom we do not have a personal relationship. Benefit of the doubt
Despite the risk taken, we decided to lend this person the money so they can solve their problem. With this way of acting, we are granting the neighbor the benefit of the doubt, as the initial suspicions are not against him. We have suspicions or doubts about the return of the money, but we decided to trust this person.
It is very likely that our generous and trusting action is based on a universal moral assessment : we must act with others as we would like to act with us.
From a legal point of view
When a person is tried for a crime and there is no conclusive evidence relating to the criminal action, the judge can acquit him for lack of evidence. In this case, the alleged criminal is acquitted for the benefit of the doubt. Thus, it is possible for the judge to have a personal conviction that an individual is guilty, but if there is no definitive evidence to incriminate him, he must be declared acquitted. Therefore, a person may be the real culprit of a crime, but he still gets absolution. Benefit of the doubt
The benefit of the doubt is directly related to the right linked to the presumption of innocence (the alleged criminal is innocent until proven guilty).
It is worth remembering that in criminal law another principle very similar to what has been analyzed so far applies: in dubio pro reo (if there are doubts about a criminal action, the court must act in favor of the accused and never against him). Benefit of the doubt