Lessons can be learned about finding the original meaning of American criminal procedure rights by an examination of the development of the reasonable doubt standard. This is for a number of reasons. First, the status of the reasonable doubt standard seems secure. No debate questions the constitutional requirement that an accused can only be convicted if the crime is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard’s original meaning can be explored uncolored by the partisanship often engendered when present seekers of original meaning hope to define a new contour to a constitutional guarantee. Furthermore, serious scholars have studied the reasonable doubt standard’s early development and its original meaning, purposes, and intent.
An examination of those scholarly sources, methods, and conclusions provides a number of valuable insights that should affect the search for finding the original meaning of other American criminal procedure guarantees. These are first that the seeker of original meaning of evolved criminal procedure rights has to go beyond traditional legal sources and explore the broader epistemological developments in religion, philosophy, and science that affected the development of the right. Second, conclusions about original meaning drawn primarily from English and other European sources can be misleading without a consideration of American developments. What might seem like a sound conclusion when English sources are examined may look suspect when viewed in the light of American developments. Finally, the reasonable doubt scholarship reveals that definitive conclusions about the original meaning of American constitutional rights will often be impossible to find both because the necessary American record is absent and because evolved rights never really had a definitive original meaning.
10 U.N.H. L. Rev. 97 (March 2012)