United States V. Shonubi: A Statistical Oddity?
7 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2005
n 1997 a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in an opinion in United States v. Shonubi (Shonubi IV), struck down a sentencing judge's use of certain statistics to estimate the amount of heroin that the defendant in that case allegedly imported. (United States v. Shonubi, 103 F.3d 1085 (2d Cir., 1997).) Shonubi IV is not particularly important or interesting because of what it portends for the future use of statistical evidence. Shonubi IV is probably little more than a blip on the landscape of the law concerning the use of statistical evidence: it is unlikely to significantly inhibit or retard - much less reverse - the long-standing trend in favor of the admissibility of statistical evidence and argument in federal litigation. The opinion of the court of appeals is interesting, important, and - above all - depressing because of what it suggests about the difficulties that many judges may have when they confront statistical methods and statistical evidence: it suggests that quite a few judges - including some very eminent and intelligent ones - still may not have a grasp of some basic characteristics of probabilistic and statistical methods and arguments.
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