CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roth on DNA and the Jury

Roth_AndreaAndrea L. Roth (UC Berkeley School of Law) has posted Defying DNA: Rethinking the Role of the Jury in an Age of Scientific Proof of Innocence (Boston University Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In 1946, public outrage erupted after a jury ordered Charlie Chaplin to support a child who, according to apparently definitive blood tests, was not his. Half a century later, juries have again defied apparently definitive evidence of innocence, finding criminal defendants guilty based on a confession or eyewitness notwithstanding exculpatory DNA test results. One might expect judges in such cases to direct an acquittal, on grounds that the evidence is legally insufficient because no rational juror could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet few if any do. Instead, courts defer to juries when they form an actual belief in guilt based on testimonial evidence, however weak, and even when contradicted by highly compelling evidence of innocence. In this Article, I argue that guilty verdicts defying DNA uniquely upend three assumptions underlying this deference doctrine: first, that juries are particularly good at determining credibility, and that the public believes this to be so; second, that reserving credibility as the province of the jury maintains systemic legitimacy by avoiding trial by machine; and third, that the reasonable doubt standard should focus on jurors’ actual belief in guilt rather than solely on the quantum and quality of proof. After explaining why the deference doctrine is unjustified, I propose changes to sufficiency law that would foreclose convictions in the face of evidence difficult to reconcile with guilt, while also ensuring that judges do not place science on an epistemic pedestal or intrude upon the jury’s role as voice and conscience of the community.

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