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A reasonable doubt

A judge's charge to a jury might go as follows:

"If you entertain a reasonable doubt as to any fact or element necessary to constitute the defendant's guilt, it is your duty to give him the benefit of that doubt and return a verdict of not guilty. Even where the evidence demonstrates a probability of guilt, if it does not establish such guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you must acquit the accused. This doubt, however, must be a reasonable one; that is one that is founded upon a real tangible substantial basis and not upon mere caprice and conjecture. It must be such doubt as would give rise to a grave uncertainty, raised in your mind by reasons of the unsatisfactory character of the evidence or lack thereof. A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt. It is an actual substantial doubt. It is a doubt that a reasonable man can seriously entertain. What is required is not an absolute or mathematical certainty, but a moral certainty." State v. Cage, 554 So.2d 39, 41 (La. 1989) (emphasis added).


Read the extract from Judge Weinstein's opinion in Fatico (458 F. Supp. 388, *409).

  1. Do you feel a moral certainty that if you roll a pair of dice, you will not roll a pair of 6's?

  2. Does it make sense to assign an actual probability to the notion of a reasonable doubt? If so, what probability would you assign.

  3. Do you suppose that juries are ever really told what probability to associate to the phrase `reasonable doubt'? What difference would it make?

  4. Does defining `beyond a reasonable doubt' as 99%certain mean that only 1 out of every 100 criminals will be convicted?



Remember that journals are to be handed in next time. Be sure to bring your journal up to date by recording your reactions to class discussions.


The first of the weekly homework assignments is also due this Thursday.

Next: AZT Up: CHANCE Previous: Percentages
Tue Jun 28 15:24:59 EDT 1994