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Intense emotion sways jurors, who believe someone must be lying. The jury sees the accused sitting coolly at the defense table while a wracked accuser tearfully recites tales of horror. But "lying isn't the issue," McNally says. The accuser may believe every word he says and still be entirely wrong. Courts now know this.
Under the circumstances, it is hard to blame the jury for deciding as it did. That is why the Shanley case should never have reached a jury without some corroborating evidence of a crime. "In British courts," says Brewin, "these kinds of allegations would not really get anywhere, unless there was independent evidence to support them."
For the most part, that is true in the United States, too. "Shanley is a bizarre aberration," Barden says. The case is a throwback, out of touch with today's best law and science. Shanley may be a monster. But the standard for a criminal conviction is proof beyond reasonable doubt. In this case, the state never met it.
© Copyright 2005 National Journal
Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal and a frequent contributor to Reason. This article was originally published by National Journal.