I spent last week with my sister’s family in Columbus. We left for church on Sunday before sunrise. However, in the car, my school-age nephew saw a ray of light and said, “Look, the sun is trying to rise!”
My nephew’s understanding of the ability of the sun to shine is a mental configuration that is understandable based on his limited knowledge and life experiences. However, adults sometimes inadvertently use mental shortcuts, known as cognitive biases or logical fallacies, to make decisions that may not be correct.
Our legal system uses a set of rules and regulations (laws of evidence, rules of civil procedure, etc.) to try to eliminate mental processes that lead to wrong decisions.
There are two primary psychological shortcuts that the legal system is particularly vigilant about.
First, the system tries to avoid moral equality. Moral equality is the same as all that is different from civil law or moral law.
For example, people cheat on their income taxes. Later, that person will be accused of persecuting his neighbor. The legal system prevents the brutality of saying, “This person is cheating on his taxes, which is not fair, and dishonest people tend to make harm their fellow-men.”
However, if that person testifies that he did not kill his neighbor, the law allows the prosecutor to argue that the person’s testimony is not true, because the person has been found guilty.
Therefore, the concern about the argument (that the person is not) allows the minds of the judges to “shortcut” to an unrelated decision (that the person attacked his neighbor) that is governed by the rules evidence, relating to the context of the evidence. and allowing the jury to use facts and arguments for reasonable purposes, and preventing judges from making decisions based on moral equivalency.
Second, the law tries to avoid red herrings. A red herring is a discussion, argument, or fact that doesn’t directly focus on the right issue but instead creates distractions that take a shortcut to a decision.
The legal system focuses on preventing red herring, although red herring is important at other times in other contexts. For example, in criminal matters, guilt is determined and punishment is determined. Where guilt and sentencing are determined, jury instructions instruct the jury to separate the two major components.
For example, if the guilty plea and sentencing are combined, the judge may conclude that the defendant is 80% likely to have committed the crime. Then, based on that information, the judge can use the red herring of possible sentencing ranges to sentence the defendant to 80% of the maximum possible sentence. In this context, punishment is a red herring. In America, a person must have a specific crime before being punished.
The complexity of our legal system provides the necessary safeguards against taking mental shortcuts and relying on mental or emotional fabrications that can lead to unfair and unjustified decisions.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agricultural matters in western Ohio. He can be reached [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to provide legal advice, and you should seek specific advice from a licensed attorney based on the facts and circumstances surrounding you.