Justice in a Brave New World?

60 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2019 Last revised: 21 Nov 2019

See all articles by Jean R. Sternlight

Jean R. Sternlight

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

Date Written: June 24, 2019


As science fiction has become reality, we should consider the implications of our new technologies for our system of justice. In addition to DNA we are now regularly using cameras, geo-tracking, facial recognition software, brain scans, computers and much more to discern and record our physical and mental surroundings. Such technology, and more we cannot yet imagine, will increasingly take the place of often unreliable evidence, such as that provided by eye-witnesses. Yet, while we have invested great resources in developing these new investigative tools, we have given far too little thought as to how this technology should impact our civil and criminal dispute resolution systems.

Historically, many justice systems have emphasized the importance of finding the truth. Our new forms of technology will arguably help us discover the truth, and thereby potentially enhance justice. Upon reflection, however, it is not clear that our scientific innovations will necessarily yield greater truth, much less justice. The products of our technology will inevitably be subject to human interpretation and argument, and justice has always been about far more than truth.

This Article argues that as we consider how to redesign our system of justice to accommodate our new technology, we should focus on three critically important issues. First, recognizing that judges and jurors will often lack the competence to interpret scientific data we should rely more heavily on neutral scientific experts. Second, in light of the psychology of multiple interpretations we will want to ensure that our evidence is interpreted by a diverse audience. Third, the greatest contribution of our powerful new technology may be, ironically, that it helps us recognize that justice involves much more than finding the truth. Even assuming we could agree on what happened in the past, alternative visions of justice influence how a community will want to deal with that set of events, such as through punishment, compensation, reparations, apology or in other ways. By deemphasizing the centrality of truth, we can focus more on other important aspects of justice including healing community rifts, enunciating community norms, providing procedural justice, protecting human rights, and providing cost-effective access to our dispute resolution system. Focusing on this broad array of concerns will encourage us to reform our litigation system in creative ways and also to rely more heavily on non-litigation approaches to justice.

Keywords: technology, justice, dispute resolution, evidence

Suggested Citation

Sternlight, Jean R., Justice in a Brave New World? (June 24, 2019). Connecticut Law Review, Forthcoming; UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3409433

Jean R. Sternlight (Contact Author)

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

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