The standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is meant to, at least in part, ensure that the government meets the highest practical standard of proof possible before imposing criminal penalties on persons. This article argues that the standard, as currently applied in trial settings, does not succeed in its goal of being the vanguard of prudence and equity. Specifically, it falls short of this high standard because of its vagueness coupled with our cognitive peculiarities, including our tendency to feel certain about facts more easily than we should. This article describes the problem and ultimately suggests a relatively simple solution that is consistent with cognitive science research. Namely, providing jurors with concrete examples of reasonable doubt, thus providing cognitive models that the jurors may reference when making difficult decisions.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/yali_corealevy/2/