Rehabilitating Statistical Evidence

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Abstract
Recently, the practice of deciding legal cases on purely statistical evidence has been widely criticised. Many feel uncomfortable with finding someone guilty on the basis of bare probabilities, even though the chance of error might be stupendously small. This is an important issue: with the rise of DNA profiling, courts are increasingly faced with purely statistical evidence. A prominent line of argument—endorsed by Blome-Tillmann 2017; Smith 2018; and Littlejohn 2018—rejects the use of such evidence by appealing to epistemic norms that apply to individual inquirers. My aim in this paper is to rehabilitate purely statistical evidence by arguing that, given the broader aims of legal systems, there are scenarios in which relying on such evidence is appropriate. Along the way I explain why popular arguments appealing to individual epistemic norms to reject legal reliance on bare statistics are unconvincing, by showing that courts and individuals face different epistemic predicaments (in short, individuals can hedge when confronted with statistical evidence, whilst legal tribunals cannot). I also correct some misconceptions about legal practice that have found their way into the recent literature.
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ROSRSE-4
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Archival date: 2019-06-06
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2019-06-06

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