Evidential Reasoning

Marcello Di Bello and Bart Verheij

When a suspect appears in front of a criminal court, there is a high probability that he will be found guilty. In the USA, statistics for recent years show that the conviction rate in federal courts is roughly 90%, and in Japan reaches as high a rate as 99%. In the UK, the numbers are slightly lower, with a conviction rate of roughly 80%, while in the Netherlands the conviction rate is around 90%. This does not mean that the fact finders deciding about the facts of a case have an easy job. Whether laypeople, such as jury members selected from the general public, or professionals, often experienced judges having completed postgraduate education, all face the difficulties associated with handling the evidence that is presented in court. What to do with conflicting testimonies? Does an established DNA match outweigh the testimony that the suspect was not seen at the crime scene? How to coherently interpret a large body of evidence? When is there enough evidence to convict?

The primary aim of this chapter is to explain the nature of evidential reasoning, the characteristic difficulties encountered, and the tools to address these difficulties. Our focus is on evidential reasoning in criminal cases. There is an extensive scholarly literature on these topics, and it is a secondary aim of the chapter to provide readers the means to find their way in historical and ongoing debates. This chapter does not aim to offer legal practitioners, lawyers, judges and expert witnesses, practical tools that can be immediately used to better litigate a case. But we hope that practitioners interested in the theoretical underpinnings of evidential reasoning in court will benefit from reading this chapter. And, more generally, philosophers, legal scholars, statisticians, logicians, and those scholars and practitioners interested in the theoretical aspects of reasoning with evidence will hopefully find this chapter an interesting resource and point of departure for further thinking on the matter.

Manuscript (in PDF-format)
Text at publisher's web site

Di Bello, M., & Verheij, B. (2018) Evidential Reasoning. Handbook of Legal Reasoning and Argumentation (eds. Bongiovanni, G., Postema, G., Rotolo, A., Sartor, G., Valentini, C., Walton, D.), 447-493. Dordrecht: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-9452-0_16

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