Reasonable Doubt and Relativity

By Cicchini, Michael D. | Washington and Lee Law Review, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Reasonable Doubt and Relativity


Cicchini, Michael D., Washington and Lee Law Review


Table of Contents

I.Introduction....................1445

II.Due Process and Reasonable Doubt....................1447

A. Misleading Refinements....................1449

1. An Alternative Hypothesis....................1449

2. Searching for Truth....................1450

3. More Than a Feeling....................1452

4. The Important Affairs of Life....................1453

5. Unreasonable Doubts....................1454

B. Reasonable Doubt is Not Self-Defining....................1455

1. What's in a Name?....................1456

2. The 60/65 Rule....................1460

III. A Legal Theory of Relativity....................1462

IV. The Study....................1467

A. Hypotheses..................... 1467

B. Research Platform....................1468

C. Participants....................1468

D. Methodology....................1470

E. Findings....................1472

V.Explaining Reasonable Doubt: It's All Relative....................1478

VI.Study Limitations and Potential Criticisms....................1482

A. Case Summary Method....................1484

B. Single Fact Pattern....................1486

C. Lack of Juror Deliberations....................1488

D. Participant Attention Level....................1490

E.Participant Bias....................1492

VII. Conclusion....................1494

VIII. Appendix....................1495

I. Introduction

The Constitution protects a criminal defendant from conviction unless the state can prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.1 The problem, however, is that this burden of proof is only as formidable as the words used to describe it to the jury.

When instructing juries on reasonable doubt, many courts go to great lengths to explain the concept. Unfortunately, these definitions often do more harm than good. Some definitions create confusion; others actually diminish the state's burden of proof below the constitutionally mandated standard; and yet others are so flawed they actually shift the burden to the defendant.2

Given these risks, other courts have decided that reasonable doubt should not be explained at all, as there is no better way to describe the concept than the two words themselves. However, a wealth of empirical research demonstrates that reasonable doubt is not self-defining.3 That is, when left unexplained, the reasonable doubt standard offers no greater protection against conviction than the preponderance of evidence standard or the clear and convincing evidence standard.4

How, then, should courts explain the criminal burden of proof to jurors? This Article advocates for a relative, context-based approach to instructing jurors on reasonable doubt. In other words, to provide the jury with necessary points of reference to appreciate how high this burden of proof actually is, the reasonable doubt standard should be explained on a relative basis by comparing and contrasting it with the two lower, civil burdens of proof.5

This approach is rooted in the psychological principle called "contrast effects,"6 and is now supported by empirical evidence as well.7 In this Article, I present the results of my controlled experiment where 379 mock jurors read the same case summary of a hypothetical criminal trial.8 Participants were then randomly assigned to two groups, each of which received a different reasonable doubt instruction: Group A (N=181) received an instruction that left reasonable doubt unexplained; Group B (N=198) received an instruction that explained the concept on a relative basis, within the context of the two lower, civil burdens of proof.9

Group A, which received the undefined instruction, acquitted the defendant at the rate of 32.6 percent; Group B, which received the relative, context-based instruction, acquitted the defendant at the higher rate of 42.4 percent.10 This was a 30 percent increase in the acquittal rate and was statistically significant at p < . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Reasonable Doubt and Relativity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.