Beyond the shadow of a doubt
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Beyond the shadow of a doubt, or beyond a shadow of a doubt, is a standard of proof. The phrase means the issue in question is so obvious, or has been so thoroughly proven, that there can exist no doubt. Two possible interpretations of "Beyond a shadow" might refer, first, to the fact that doubt could be nowhere in the vicinity (completely expelled from the issue), or second, to the thoroughness of the argument (a shadow being even less substantial than a doubt itself).
Burden of proof
Beyond the shadow of a doubt is a standard of proof, and as such, falls along a continuum of certainty. An example of such a continuum might advance as follows:
- air of reality - only having the traces of truth
- preponderance of the evidence - it is more likely than not
- clear and convincing evidence - it is substantially more likely than not
- beyond a reasonable doubt - no reasonable doubt could be raised
- beyond the shadow of a doubt - no doubt whatsoever could be raised
Interchangeability with reasonable doubt
Beyond the shadow of a doubt is sometimes used interchangeably, although mistakenly, with beyond a reasonable doubt, especially in courts of law. Some feel the former an impossible standard of proof in court, while the latter is more logically accommodating, allowing for the limits of human reason.
Scientific and philosophic perspectives
Beyond the shadow of doubt cannot be a scientific term because that level of certainty exists beyond the limits of science, i.e., because science depends on necessarily uncertain a posteriori knowledge, nothing in science could be beyond doubt. For this reason, one might find it useful to think of beyond the shadow of doubt as a metaphysical description.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt is not the standard of proof in criminal cases (beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard in common law jurisdictions). It has some relevance in the debate on capital punishment, where there is some support for making beyond the shadow of a doubt the standard required for a death sentence (the implication being that a defendant found guilty but only beyond a reasonable doubt would be convicted but could not be sentenced to death).
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, or beyond a shadow of a doubt appears to be a phrase that has grown up in the colloquial, predominantly from the simpler form "beyond a doubt," circa 1300.
Other notable uses of the exact phrase shadow of (a) doubt include:
- popular news print around 1820
- The Scarlet Letter, novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850.
- The Gondoliers, operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan, 1889: “Of that there is no manner of doubt—no probable, possible shadow of doubt”
- "The Trial by Existence", poem by Robert Frost, 1915.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, novel by Harper Lee, 1960, wherein Atticus Finch states: "The law says 'reasonable doubt,' but I think a defendant's entitled to the shadow of a doubt. There's always the possibility, no matter how improbable, that he's innocent."
- Ammer, Christine. "Beyond a doubt." The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997. Print. RPT in http://books.google.com/books?id=9re1vfFh04sC&pg=PA57&lpg=PA57&dq=%22beyond+the+shadow+of+a+doubt%22%2B%22beyond+a+reasonable+doubt%22&source=bl&ots=JGWxlB9oUk&sig=tPcWQBRujZPOM9uPVbsUPTta1so&hl=en&ei=xALqSYHdDoH-swOJiuXkAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8#PPA57,M1