Chapter

The Rules of Trial, Political Morality, and the Costs of Error: Or, Is Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Doing More Harm than Good?

Larry Laudan

in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199606443
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729683 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199606443.003.0006

Series: Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law

The Rules of Trial, Political Morality, and the Costs of Error: Or, Is Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Doing More Harm than Good?

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This chapter explores the thesis that the use of the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for trying those accused of violent crimes — especially if such defendants already have a history of serial offending — is an inappropriately exacting standard. The reason, in brief, is that such a standard fails to reckon with the very high costs and risks imposed on innocent citizens by the non‐conviction and release of falsely acquitted, serial felons. It argues further that those who hold that political morality demands that no defendant should ever be judged by a standard less rigorous than proof beyond reasonable doubt fail to grasp that the function of a standard of proof is to embody our best guesses about the respective costs of error. It goes on to show that familiar deontological theories utterly lack the conceptual resources for non‐arbitrarily defining any standard of proof, since such theories fail to comes to terms with the problems posed by factoring the risks of error into decisions about which actions are justified and which are not.

Keywords: reasonable doubt; false convictions; false acquittals; social contract; risk of error; standard of proof; serial criminals

Chapter.  13976 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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