The Reasonable and the Relevant: Legal Standards of Proof

Philosophy and Public Affairs 47 (3):288-318 (2019)
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Abstract
According to a common conception of legal proof, satisfying a legal burden requires establishing a claim to a numerical threshold. Beyond reasonable doubt, for example, is often glossed as 90% or 95% likelihood given the evidence. Preponderance of evidence is interpreted as meaning at least 50% likelihood given the evidence. In light of problems with the common conception, I propose a new ‘relevant alternatives’ framework for legal standards of proof. Relevant alternative accounts of knowledge state that a person knows a proposition when their evidence rules out all relevant error possibilities. I adapt this framework to model three legal standards of proof—the preponderance of evidence, clear and convincing evidence, and beyond reasonable doubt standards. I describe virtues of this framework. I argue that, by eschewing numerical thresholds, the relevant alternatives framework avoids problems inherent to rival models. I conclude by articulating aspects of legal normativity and practice illuminated by the relevant alternatives framework.
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Archival date: 2019-11-08
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