Reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence: The case of the bayesian juror

Topoi 18 (2):117-126 (1999)
There is a substantial literature on the Bayesian approach, and the application of Bayes'' theorem, to legal matters. However, I have found no discussion that explores fully the issue of how a Bayesian juror might be led from an initial "presumption of innocence" to the judgment (required for conviction in criminal cases) that the suspect is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt". I shall argue here that a Bayesian juror, if she acts in accord with what the law prescribes, will virtually never reach such a judgment. In section I, I discuss Bayesianism, Bayes'' rule and the relation between them. Section II addresses the two legal notions key to my worries about Bayesian jurors: the presumption of innocence and the reasonable doubt criterion. Section III explores what a Bayesian is to make of these notions, and how the legal system requires her to reason in their light. If I am right, there emerges a conflict between current legal prescriptions and the Bayesian approach. Section IV explores the import of this conflict and how it might be resolved.
Keywords Philosophy   Philosophy   Philosophy of Science   Philosophy of Technology
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