The conflict between precision and flexibility in explaining "beyond a reasonable doubt"

Elisabeth Stoffelmayr, Shari Diamond*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Though beyond a reasonable doubt is a common phrase inside and outside the courtroom, courts have struggled to define the phrase or to set clear standards for an adequate definition. The struggle has important implications because empirical evidence reveals that the choice of definition can influence the jury's verdict. The authors analyze the variety of proposed definitions, including the quantified definitions that some have advocated, setting out 5 criteria for an adequate definition consistent with both legal requirements and empirical evidence. They also suggest that the push for precision, such as that promised by a quantified definition in the form of a single percentage, may produce a loss of desirable flexibility. A structured flexibility permitting the trier of fact to adjust the stringency of the standard to reflect the severity of the offense and the costs associated with error may be a virtue worth fostering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-787
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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