Just Evidence: The Limits of Science in the Legal Process

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 34 (2):328-341 (2006)
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“Relying on Science, Romney Files Death Penalty Bill.” With that headline, a press release on April 28, 2005 announced that Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was seeking to reintroduce by legislation the death penalty that the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled unconstitutional in 1984. The remainder of the text left little doubt that science was a major basis for the governor's action. The press release quoted Romney as saying that the bill provided a “gold standard for the death penalty in the modern scientific age.” Positing a symmetry that will be questioned below, Romney also declared, “Just as science can free the innocent, it can also identify the guilty.” The bill itself deferred to science by calling for corroborating scientific evidence, multiple layers of review, and a novel “no doubt” standard of proof. By raising the required standard of evidence and by restricting the class of capital crimes, the proposed law hoped to correct the defects of other death penalty statutes.



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