Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2013

Publication Title

Case Western Reserve Law Review

Publication Title (Abbreviation)

Case W. Res. L Rev.





First Page


Last Page



This Article offers a new account of legal fact-finding based on the dual-process framework in cognitive psychology. This line of research suggests that our brains possess two radically different ways of thinking. “System 1” cognition is unconscious, fast, and associative, while “System 2” involves effortful, conscious reasoning. Drawing on these insights, I describe the ways that unconscious processing and conscious reflection interact when jurors hear and decide cases. Most existing evidential models offer useful insights about the ways that juries use relevant information in deciding cases but fail to account for situations in which their decisions are likely to be affected by irrelevant stimuli. The dual-process approach, by contrast, is able to explain both probative and prejudicial influences on decision making. As a demonstration, I use the dual-process framework to explain the surprising result in People v. Rivera, a case in which a jury convicted a man of rape and murder despite the admission of exonerating DNA evidence. This result, I suggest, was not the product of an unusually lazy or unreasonable jury but rather illustrates the way that our ordinary cognitive processes can lead us to endorse quite unreasonable results if primed using certain common prosecutorial strategies.

After elaborating the dual-process model in a descriptive form, I then consider some of its normative implications. Many leading evidence scholars have argued that verdicts resting on “pure” or “naked” statistical evidence are problematic. Although the dual-process model of fact-finding is descriptive rather than normative, it nevertheless provides surprising insight into this debate by showing that our intuitive discomfort with verdicts that are based on purely statistical data may arise from the failure of such evidence to speak in terms that our unconscious, intuitive System 1 can process reliably. In such circumstances, intuitions about outcomes should be treated with caution. Thus, what unites the seemingly disparate examples of the Rivera trial and the naked statistical evidence debate is that, in both contexts, it feels right to do wrong.


© 2013 Emily Spottswood


First published in Case Western Reserve Law Review.

Faculty Biography