Post-Positivist Science and Postmodern Criminal Justice Towards a Framework of Analysis

Shahid M. Shahidullah, Virginia State University

The purpose of this paper is to develop a theoretical framework for an analysis of the impact of science on modern criminal justice. Modern courts, criminal investigators, forensic experts, jurors, and attorneys -- all use and confront science. DNA, insanity defense, nature of scientific evidence, admissibility of scientific evidence, expert testimony, "abuse excuse", battered women syndrome, sudden passion syndrom, repressed memory syndrome, product liability, risk assessment, and many other criminal justice issues are intimately connected to modern science. The nature and character of modern ligitgations depend largely on how the judges, attorneys, and jurors define and perceive science and scientific evidence. This paper will proceed in three stages. First, the paper will discuss the contemporary standard view of science described as post-positivist science. Second, the paper will examine the nature of contemporary postmodern criminal justice where the issues of equality, quality of life, moral responsibility, collective moral standards, and diversity are equally important as the issues of scientific conclusions, standards, and objectivity. Thirdly, the paper will analyze, in terms of some science related court cases and debates, how science is used, abused, or misued in the court. The main thesis of the paper is that the notion of uncertainty, based on the theories of modern quantum physics and biology, is basic to the philosophy of post-positivist science. This notion of uncertainty is in conflict with the legal notion of seeking "truth beyond a shade of reasonable doubt." Because of this broader philosophical duality between science and law, and the conflicting goals of truth and morality in the court, the use of science in the criminal justice system wiely vary from case to case and court to court.

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Updated 05/20/2006