This is a question I wish jurors would ask themselves more often.
What I think is often missed, is that if you pick a random person out of a telephone directory, the odds are very high than they are not someone capable of heinous murder.
In any homicide investigation, there are two questions to be considered:
(1) Was it some kind of accident or self-defense, or is it murder.
(2) If it’s murder, who did it.
The first question may sometimes seem trivial, but it’s not. Any number of wrongful convictions arise from situations where an accident or self-defense killing is mistaken for murder.
Unfortunately people are far too easily persuaded there is a crime on uncertain evidence, and forget how unlikely it is that an accused person is guilty, especially when there is no apparent motive for an alleged crime, and the accused has no notable record of physical violence towards others.
Uncertain evidence comes in two varieties:
(1) The evidence itself is uncertain : the source is not reliable, or a mistake may plausibly have occurred. An example is making inferences from an absence of evidence, or eyewitness identifications, which are notoriously unreliable. Or a statement made by a person with a motive to lie.
(2) The inference is uncertain : there is an innocent explanation that cannot be ruled out.
I wish jurors would not vote guilty on uncertain evidence, especially when the innocent explanation is far more probable.
And that’s the memo.