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Beyond Reasonable DoubtIt is a debate for legal scholars and law students for sure, but...

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santon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:16 AM via web

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Beyond Reasonable Doubt

It is a debate for legal scholars and law students for sure, but it is the measurement of one's guilt or innocence, but yet no one can truly identify "reasonable". To one person, or juror, reasonable may mean the "norm", "obvious", "most common", "sensible". However, to another, "reasonable" might mean something completely different.

Everyone's reason is the measurement, beyond their personal doubt as to the fate of a person who murdered another. As the justice system creates legal documents so complicated in legal jargon, codes and linguistic manipulation, one would assume the system of justice would truly have created a similar phrase of standard of criminal guilt or innocence.

As a Law teacher, in high school, it is an interesting conversation when faced with the task of explaining Reasonable Doubt. The high school student whose questions and demands for a simple qualifier for the expectation seems daunting at times.

Reasonable? ok, not like your parents or grandparents

Doubt? ok, really don't trust

YOU BELIEVE, MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WORLD, THAT THE PERSON IS GUILTY BECAUSE YOU DON'T TRUST THIS PERSON ON TRIAL FOR MURDER BECAUSE THEY DID NOT ACT LIKE YOUR PARENTS OR GRANDPARENTS WOULD HAVE IN THE SAME SITUATION.   ...UM MAY TRY IT ON THE KIDS AND SEE WHAT THEY UNDERSTAND.

 

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:37 AM (Answer #2)

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In English law (the origin of the reasonable doubt standard) the principle has been specifically laid out. The Supreme Court in this country has stopped short of explicating the rule, though it has claimed that juries should receive more instruction on what constitutes reasonable doubt.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 8, 2012 at 10:59 AM (Answer #3)

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Do you have a question here or something you want discussed?  It is hard to tell from your post what that might be.

I guess one way to think about it is this: if you had unlimited power, how would you change this?  I don't see that there's any reasonable alternative.  What if you said "you have to be 99% sure?"  Would that help?  Probably not as it is very difficult to determine a percentage of certainty.

I don't think there's really any way to improve upon this standard.

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santon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:24 AM (Answer #4)

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In English law (the origin of the reasonable doubt standard) the principle has been specifically laid out. The Supreme Court in this country has stopped short of explicating the rule, though it has claimed that juries should receive more instruction on what constitutes reasonable doubt.

Thank you, I will discuss this with the students. Interesting in the specification being laid out, but our highest court in the land leaves room for personal interpretation and judicial instruction by individuals who argue their cases for which they hope to win or maintain order in the courtroom.

Reminds me of when we ask our students to explain or define and we rarely get the exact point of view. You are surely appreciated for your response.

 

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:27 AM (Answer #5)

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I think that on balance the jury system works pretty well.  The idea is that, in America anyway, it is better for 9 guilty men to go free than for 1 innocent man to go to jail.  It may seem wrong, but since there is no perfect system and no way to really know, I guess it's better this way than the other way around.

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santon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:29 AM (Answer #6)

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Do you have a question here or something you want discussed?  It is hard to tell from your post what that might be.

I guess one way to think about it is this: if you had unlimited power, how would you change this?  I don't see that there's any reasonable alternative.  What if you said "you have to be 99% sure?"  Would that help?  Probably not as it is very difficult to determine a percentage of certainty.

I don't think there's really any way to improve upon this standard.

I don't have a question and my discussion does tend to look as if I am pondering the phrase on my own, but your responses have given me many interesting ways to present to the students. I really want them to discuss, question and ponder without the expectation of an answer or conclusion.

I love the question you gave me, very interesting and helpful.

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santon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:34 AM (Answer #7)

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I think that on balance the jury system works pretty well.  The idea is that, in America anyway, it is better for 9 guilty men to go free than for 1 innocent man to go to jail.  It may seem wrong, but since there is no perfect system and no way to really know, I guess it's better this way than the other way around.

I absolutely agree with you. I tend to have the kids ask me why it has to be majority rule. They have a hard time with majority rule and seem to prefer the option of all or nothing. Teenagers, they always seem to act without doubt, and demand all or nothing, as long as it does not affect them negatively.

In our Mock trials, they seem to always end up a hung Jury or mistrial. I always have to return to the concept of "Beyond Reasonable Doubt", and find it is a tough one to clarify with a clear explanation.

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speamerfam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted March 9, 2012 at 12:32 AM (Answer #8)

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One aspect to this that has not been raised is "a jury of one's peers."  This is ripe for discussion in the classroom.  The standard for guilt is meant to be viewed through the lens of one's peers, the people who get to decide what is beyond a reasonable doubt.   Do your students have any sense of how juries pools are created?   Do we adhere to the Constitutional requirement?  What happens when an all-white jury convicts an African-American or an all-male jury convicts a female?  Whom would your students consider to be their peers?

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