Legal Burdens of Proof and Statistical Evidence

In James Chase & David Coady (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Applied Epistemology. Routledge (forthcoming)
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Abstract

In order to perform certain actions – such as incarcerating a person or revoking parental rights – the state must establish certain facts to a particular standard of proof. These standards – such as preponderance of evidence and beyond reasonable doubt – are often interpreted as likelihoods or epistemic confidences. Many theorists construe them numerically; beyond reasonable doubt, for example, is often construed as 90 to 95% confidence in the guilt of the defendant. A family of influential cases suggests standards of proof should not be interpreted numerically. These ‘proof paradoxes’ illustrate that purely statistical evidence can warrant high credence in a disputed fact without satisfying the relevant legal standard. In this essay I evaluate three influential attempts to explain why merely statistical evidence cannot satisfy legal standards.

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Georgi Gardiner
University of Tennessee, Knoxville