The reasonable doubt standard as inference to the best explanation

Hylke Jellema*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Explanationist accounts of rational legal proof view trials as a competition between explanations. Such accounts are often criticized for being underdeveloped. One question in need of further attention is when guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt (BARD) in criminal trials. This article defends an inference to the best explanation (IBE)-based approach on which guilt is only established BARD if (1) the best guilt explanation in a case is substantially more plausible than any innocence explanation, and (2) there is no good reason to presume that we have overlooked evidence or alternative explanations that could realistically have exonerated the defendant. This is a comparative account, which I argue is better suited for arriving at accurate verdicts than the non-comparative ‘no plausible alternative’ account that many explanationists tacitly assume. Furthermore, this account is not susceptible to the most important arguments against IBE in criminal trials or to arguments against other, non-explanationist interpretations of the BARD standard. I use a case study to illustrate how this account provides meaningful guidance for decision makers in criminal trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)949–973
Number of pages25
JournalSynthese
Volume199
Early online date23-Jun-2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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