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

Topoi 18 (2):117-126 (1999)
Abstract
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.
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