first-year law review

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Judicial Notice of Scientific Principle and Legislative Facts

Our discussion today focused on two cases, State v. Graham and Muller v. Oregon. State v. Graham focused on taking judicial notice of a scientific principle. In this case, Graham was convicted of going 65 mph in a 50 mph zone. He was caught by troopers using radar guns. The question on appeal was whether radar, as a device for detecting speed, a scientific principle so soundly established as to be accepted by the courts. The court held that the device, when maintained and operating within specs, measures speed accurately, and that it should be used.


Judicial notice of a scientific principle is hard because Rule 201 doesn’t tell us when a court can take notice of a scientific principle. The old standard was the Fry test which said scientific proof is admissible only if it’s generally accepted as valid by the scientific community. You’d use experts to establish the community’s view, then eventually courts would just take judicial notice of the principle. This worked until scientific advances outpaced the test. Now, before a jury can consider scientific proof, the court must determine it’s reliable, then the jury can determine what weight to give it. This protects the jury from unreliable evidence, but also allows the principle in.


The second case we looked at was Muller v. Oregon in which Justice Brandeis, before he was a justice, submitted a brief which was basically one page with a forty-five page footnote. The case was about limiting the hours a woman could work in certain industries, and the footnote included statutes and sociological research that backed that policy. The legislation referred to aren’t technically authorities, but they do represent the widespread belief that something is factual. Judicial notice is taken of all matters of general knowledge. Legislative facts are necessary in the judicial process, especially in interpreting the Constitution or other laws. When called upon to interpret a statute, courts should understand the nature of the evil the legislature was trying to correct.


The problem for judges using legislative facts is that socio-economic facts aren’t in law books. Judges can get those facts and the legislative goal however they need to. In his brief, Brandeis didn’t have to establish truth, he just said that the legislation and data support the need and the conclusion that there’s a rational basis. Again, Rule 201 doesn’t say anything on legislative facts. The standard for taking judicial notice doesn’t exist so as to provide courts with flexibility.


August 31, 2007 - Posted by | Evidence

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