Trial by Statistics: Is a High Probability of Guilt Enough to Convict?

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7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Suppose one hundred prisoners are in a yard under the supervision of a guard, and at some point, ninety-nine of them collectively kill the guard. If, after the fact, a prisoner is picked at random and tried, the probability of his guilt is 99%. But despite the high probability, the statistical chances, by themselves, seem insufficient to justify a conviction. The question is why. Two arguments are offered. The first, decision-theoretic argument shows that a conviction solely based on the statistics in the prisoner scenario is unacceptable so long as the goal of expected utility maximization is combined with fairness constraints. The second, risk-based argument shows that a conviction solely based on the statistics in the prisoner scenario lets the risk of mistaken conviction surge potentially too high. The same, by contrast, cannot be said of convictions solely based on DNA evidence or eyewitness testimony. A noteworthy feature of the two arguments in the paper is that they are not confined to criminal trials and can in fact be extended to civil trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1045-1084
Number of pages40
JournalMind
Volume128
Issue number512
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy

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