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Defying DNA: Rethinking the Role of the Jury in an Age of Scientific Proof of Innocence


Andrea L. Roth


UC Berkeley School of Law

March 25, 2013

Boston University Law Review, Forthcoming
UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2239283

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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 53

Keywords: DNA, sufficiency, reasonable doubt, statistical evidence

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Date posted: March 26, 2013 ; Last revised: May 17, 2014

Suggested Citation

Roth, Andrea L., Defying DNA: Rethinking the Role of the Jury in an Age of Scientific Proof of Innocence (March 25, 2013). Boston University Law Review, Forthcoming; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2239283. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2239283

Contact Information

Andrea L. Roth (Contact Author)
UC Berkeley School of Law ( email )
215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
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