Vanderbilt Law Review


Dan Simon

First Page



Few political institutions play as palpable, ubiquitous, and solemn a role in the U.S. public life as the criminal justice system. The task of determining the defendant's criminal liability with a high degree of certitude is performed through the ritualized and highly proceduralized adjudicative process, with the trial at its core. The United States Supreme Court has portrayed the criminal trial as a "decisive and portentous" and "paramount" event. Trials are considered "the central institution of law as we know it," the "crown jewel" of the legal system. Amidst its multiple purposes, an essential objective of the criminal trial is to determine facts: which human events constitute crimes and who perpetrated them. Specifically, the trial is designed to serve the diagnostic function of distinguishing between prosecutions of guilty and innocent people, or at least between compelling prosecutions and those that do not meet the requisite certitude.

The prevailing sentiment within the American polity and legal profession is that the trial is indeed acutely diagnostic. Naturally, the potential for accurate criminal verdicts depends on the ability of the factfinders-typically juries-to ascertain the facts accurately. The Supreme Court routinely lauds the process's factfinding capabilities.

Included in

Criminal Law Commons