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Is it Better that Ten Guilty Persons Go Free Than that One Innocent Person be Convicted?

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Ethics Volume: 23 Issue: 2 Dated: Summer/Fall 2004 Pages: 3-13
Vidar Halvorsen
Date Published
11 pages
This article examines and attempts to interpret a 1769 doctrine that says, “the law holds that it is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than that 1 innocent suffer.”
In this article, the author attempts to interpret the doctrine ascribed in 1769 by William Blackstone that “the law holds that it is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than that 1 innocent suffer (innocent person be convicted).” It is presupposed that any ratio presented should not be taken to indicate that it is worse to convict an innocent person than to acquit a guilty one. An interpretation presented as more adequate is one from an 1895 U.S. Supreme Court case which stated, “it is better to let the crime of a guilty person go unpunished than to condemn the innocent.” This doctrine was dated back to Roman law. Other interpretations are presented, discussed, and analyzed and include one from Jeffrey Reiman and Ernest van den Haag with the reconstruction of a consequential rational as the moral primacy of protecting the innocent against convictions. In conclusion, the author feels it is accurate to say, it is better that 10 guilty persons go free than that 1 innocent person be convicted. However, there is much moral significance attached to the number 10 rather than, say, the number 42, and it is not as straightforward to explain why it is better, or less bad. 36 Notes


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