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Legal History Commons

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Yale Law School

Faculty Scholarship Series

Legal History

2005

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Full-Text Articles in Legal History

The Origins Of "Reasonable Doubt", James Q. Whitman Mar 2005

The Origins Of "Reasonable Doubt", James Q. Whitman

Faculty Scholarship Series

The "reasonable doubt" rule is notoriously difficult to define, and many judges and scholars have deplored the confusion it creates in the minds of jurors. Yet "reasonable doubt" is regarded as a fundamental part of our law. How can a rule of such fundamental importance be so difficult to define and understand?

The answer, this paper tries to show, lies in history. The "reasonable doubt" rule was not originally designed to serve the purpose it is asked to serve today: It was not originally designed to protect the accused. Instead, it was designed to protect the souls of the jurors ...