Monday, September 18, 2006

Doubt it

Another toss-off line in a class set me thinking. This time it was Torts, with my brilliant teacher from Omaha! (oh, Omaha! *sigh*) He mentioned a "reasonable doubt: one that can be reasoned, not a speculative doubt." Suddenly -- ding! The light bulb went on for me.

I must admit I'd never really thought about it that way. We've all heard for years that the prosecution in a criminal case must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt." And, even if we never paid attention to these things before O.J., we probably could recite after that the burden of proof was less in a civil case: "a preponderance of the evidence." But I'd always thought about a "reasonable doubt" as sort of an "acceptable level of doubt" or an understandable doubt, you know. Reasonable. Not outlandish. Behave reasonably.

And in civil cases, and all the intentional tort cases we discuss in class, the standard of negligence asks what a reasonable person would do in those circumstances, how a member of society can reasonably be asked to behave. We often hear that, though, as "how would a normal person behave?"

It's important for us to remember that the law asks us to be reasonable, to be logical. That is to say, our actions should not be unfounded. There should be discernible reasoning behind them. As for proving the prosecution's case against the defendant, sure, you could always come up with some far-fetched speculative doubt ("well, what IF the REAL killer just HAPPENED to throw the bloody knife in my bag...." or whatever) but the courts ask only to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, to make a case that withstands logical probing and analysis.

I love logic. I love the law. I might add that I've always hated when in emotionally volatile situations people try to get out of facing consequences or owning up to their actions or answering the question "Why?" by saying they can't explain it, it just happened, they can't help what they feel, there's no logical reason for it, and so on.

Here's to being reasonable!

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