Brainstorm of an Ishmaelite

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: The Elastic Band Analogy

The imagination is like an elastic band that can be stretched into various forms, which represent reasonable possibilities or doubts. An unreasonable doubt stretches the imagination beyond its elastic limit and causes it to snap. You’ll know when this happens. This analogy raises the concerns that:

1. The ‘bands’ (or imaginations) of different people–for instance, attorneys, witnesses, judges and jurors–have different elasticity. Not everyone agrees what is reasonable and what is not.

2. This subjective standard of reasonableness doesn’t guarantee accuracy. For instance, just because some people can’t understand or imagine certain things doesn’t mean they’re true or false.

Since the criminal justice system rests on the presumption that the judgment of a single judge or twelve jurors is reliable, the elastic band analogy helps to illustrate shortcomings of the system.