Revisiting 'Dreyfus': A More Complete Account of a Trial by Mathematics

11 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2006  

David H. Kaye

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Abstract

Legal literature and case law depicts the infamous conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for treason and espionage in 1899 as a prime example of the irresistible power of even grossly fallacious mathematical demonstrations to overwhelm a legal tribunal. This essay shows that Dreyfus is not a case of mathematics run amok, unchecked and uncomprehended. To the contrary, the defects in the mathematical proof were dramatically exposed, and this evidence did not lead Dreyfus's judges to condemn him. This history undercuts the reliance of modern courts and commentators on Dreyfus as an indication or illustration of the alleged dangers of probability evidence in criminal cases.

Keywords: Legal history, Dreyfus, probability, statistics, handwriting, scientific evidence

Suggested Citation

Kaye, David H., Revisiting 'Dreyfus': A More Complete Account of a Trial by Mathematics. Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 91, No. 3, pp. 825-835, February 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=944244

David H. Kaye (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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