Question of fact

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In law, a question of fact, also known as a point of fact, is a question that must be answered by reference to facts and evidence as well as inferences arising from those facts. Such a question is distinct from a question of law, which must be answered by applying relevant legal principles. The answer to a question of fact (a "finding of fact") usually depends on particular circumstances or factual situations.[1]

To illustrate the difference:

  • Question of fact: Did Mr. and Mrs. Jones leave their 10-year-old child home alone with their baby for 4 days?
  • Question of law: Does leaving a baby with a 10-year-old child for 4 days fit the legal definition of child neglect?

After hearing evidence, a US court may issue a "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law," which separately examines the factual issues and then draws a legal conclusion. In the above example, the court might write that the facts have been established to a required standard of proof that Mr. and Mrs. Jones left their 10-year-old child home alone with a baby for several days. The conclusion of law would then follow, outlining the given child neglect statute that Mr. and Mrs. Jones violated.

All questions of fact are capable of proof or disproof by reference to a certain standard of proof. Depending on the nature of the matter, the standard of proof may require that a fact be proven to be "more likely than not" (there is barely more evidence for the fact than against, as established by a preponderance of the evidence) or true beyond reasonable doubt.

Answers to questions of fact are determined by a trier of fact such as a jury, or a judge. In many jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, appellate courts generally do not consider appeals based on errors of fact (errors in answering a question of fact). Rather, the findings of fact of the first venue are usually given great deference by appellate courts.[2]

The distinction between "law" and "fact" has proved obscure wherever it is employed. For instance, the common law used to require that a plaintiff's complaint in a civil action only state the "facts" of his case, not any "legal conclusions." Unfortunately, no one has ever been able to tell whether the allegation that "on November 9, the defendant negligently ran over the plaintiff with his car at the intersection of State Street and Chestnut Street" is a statement of fact or a legal conclusion. In fact, the distinction between law and fact is just the legal version of the philosophical distinction between "empirical" and "analytical" statements, a distinction on whose existence philosophers have been unable to agree to this day.... we will see that many defendants charged with impossible attempts are not in fact attempting the crime they are charged with attempting. They merely think they are committing a crime.... It would be merely foolish to assert that it is of no interest whatever to know that The Disciples is a forgery. But to the man who has never heard of either Vermeer or van Meegeren and who stands in front of The Disciples admiring it, it can make no difference whether he is told that it is a seventeenth-century Vermeer or a twentieth-century van Meegeren in the style of Vermeer. And when some deny this and argue vehemently that, indeed, it does make a great deal of difference, they are only admitting that they do know something about Vermeer and van Meegeren and the history of art and the value and reputation of certain masters. They are only admitting that they do not judge a work of art on purely aesthetic grounds, but also take into account when it was created, by whom, and how great a reputation it or its creator has.[3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Question of fact". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Sharma, Riecha; Tacey, Sam. "The Decision is Final: English High Court Rules That There Can Be No Appeal Against Arbitration Awards on Issues of Fact". edwardswildman.com. Edwards Wildman Palmer. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Leo Katz, Bad Acts and Guilty Minds: Conundrums of the Criminal Law, University of Chicago Press, 1987. Chapter 6. The Crime That Never Was: A Fake Opinion in a Fake Case involving Fakes (pp 276-293)