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.