The Nature and Purpose of Evidence Theory
67 Pages Posted: 16 May 2012 Last revised: 8 Apr 2013
Date Written: April 5, 2013
The past few decades have seen an explosion in theoretical and empirical scholarship exploring the law of evidence. From a variety of disciplines and distinct methodological perspectives, this work has illuminated important issues regarding types of evidence, legal rules and doctrine, the reasoning processes of judges and juries, the structure of proof, and the normative considerations underlying these various issues. This Article takes up the theoretical project writ large. Exploring the landscape of evidence scholarship, the Article examines a number of methodological and metatheoretical questions: What would a successful evidentiary theory look like? By what criteria should we assess such a theory? What is the purpose of such theorizing? What is the relationship between the theoretical and empirical projects? In exploring these questions, the Article identifies criteria by which to evaluate theorizing in this area.
To that end, the Article first identifies two considerations that underlie any theoretical account of the evidentiary proof process and its components: factual accuracy and allocating the risk of erroneous decisions. Next, it articulates and defends general criteria by which to evaluate theoretical accounts in evidence scholarship in light of these considerations. Finally, it applies the general criteria to evaluate two theoretical accounts — a probabilistic conception and an explanatory conception — and concludes that the probabilistic conception fails and the explanatory conception succeeds in light of the theoretical criteria. Along with clarifying evidence theory, the Article also clarifies the relationship between theoretical and empirical scholarship in this area.
Keywords: legal proof, relevance, probative value, standards of proof, preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing, beyond a reasonable doubt, likelihood ratio, probability, Bayes’ Theorem, explanations, abduction, inference to the best explanation
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