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Statistical evidence and the criminal verdict asymmetry

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AbstractEpistemologists have posed the following puzzle, known as the proof paradox: Why is it intuitively problematic for juries to convict on the basis of statistical evidence and yet intuitively unproblematic for juries to convict on the basis of far less reliable, non-statistical evidence? To answer this question, theorists have explained the exclusion of statistical evidence by arguing that legal proof requires certain epistemic features. In this paper, I make two contributions to the debate. First, I establish the Criminal Verdict Asymmetry, a previously-unarticulated asymmetry between the epistemic norms of guilty and not guilty verdicts. I argue that the prosecution and defense’s different epistemic burdens influence whether statistical evidence can generate the type of verdict each side pursues. Second, I point out a mistake in how theorists have understood the role of statistical evidence in criminal trials. Though epistemologists have primarily focused on whether statistical evidence can generate specific epistemic features required for convictions, I consider whether statistical evidence can demonstrate a lack of such features. I find that there are epistemic advantages to allowing the defense to introduce statistical evidence which can reveal the prosecution’s failure to prove the defendant’s guilt.
Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Title: Statistical evidence and the criminal verdict asymmetry
Description:
AbstractEpistemologists have posed the following puzzle, known as the proof paradox: Why is it intuitively problematic for juries to convict on the basis of statistical evidence and yet intuitively unproblematic for juries to convict on the basis of far less reliable, non-statistical evidence? To answer this question, theorists have explained the exclusion of statistical evidence by arguing that legal proof requires certain epistemic features.
In this paper, I make two contributions to the debate.
First, I establish the Criminal Verdict Asymmetry, a previously-unarticulated asymmetry between the epistemic norms of guilty and not guilty verdicts.
I argue that the prosecution and defense’s different epistemic burdens influence whether statistical evidence can generate the type of verdict each side pursues.
Second, I point out a mistake in how theorists have understood the role of statistical evidence in criminal trials.
Though epistemologists have primarily focused on whether statistical evidence can generate specific epistemic features required for convictions, I consider whether statistical evidence can demonstrate a lack of such features.
I find that there are epistemic advantages to allowing the defense to introduce statistical evidence which can reveal the prosecution’s failure to prove the defendant’s guilt.

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