Beyond Reasonable Doubt? - Richard Dawkins [link]

A new article looking at the jury system rationally and scientifically.


Courtroom dramas accurately portray the suspense that hangs in the air when the jury returns and delivers its verdict. All, including the lawyers on both sides and the judge, are on tenterhooks and hold their breath while they wait to hear the foreman of the jury pronounce the words, “Guilty” or “Not guilty”. However, if the phrase “beyond reasonable doubt” means what it says, there should be no doubt of the outcome in the mind of anybody who has sat through the same trial as the jury. That includes the judge who, as soon as the jury has delivered its verdict, is prepared to give the order for execution — or release the prisoner without a stain on his character.

And yet, before the jury returned, there was enough “reasonable doubt” in that same judge’s mind to keep him on tenterhooks waiting for the verdict.

You cannot have it both ways. Either the verdict is beyond reasonable doubt, in which case there should be no suspense while the jury is out. Or there is real, nail-biting suspense, in which case you cannot claim that the case has been proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.

This really struck me as something that could have been on LW’s front page.