Half the Guilt

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Abstract Criminal law conceptualizes guilt and the finding of guilt as purely categorical phenomena. At the end of trial, the defendant is pronounced either “guilty” or “not guilty” of the charges made against her, excluding the possibility of judgment of degree. Judges or juries cannot calibrate findings of guilt to various degrees of epistemic certainty by pronouncing the defendant “probably guilty,” “most certainly guilty,” or “guilty by preponderance of the evidence.” Nor can decision makers qualify the verdict to reflect normative or legal ambiguities. Findings of guilt are construed as asserting factual and legal truths. The penal results of conviction assume similar “all or nothing” properties: punishment can be calibrated, but not with the established probability of guilt. The prevailing decision-making model, with its ‘on-off’ formulation of guilt, is so broadly established that it is considered an axiom— but there is nothing natural or pre-political about it, nor about the derivative distribution of punishment. This Article attempts to expose the hidden potential rooted in the construal of criminal verdicts as judgments of degree, by drawing three hypothetical manifestations of a linear conceptualization of conviction and punishment in the criminal trial and plea-bargaining arena. It also offers a normative assessment of converting criminal verdicts from categorical decisions to continuities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-109
Number of pages23
JournalTheoretical inquiries in law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


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