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Wakkie, D.

Author: David Wakkie

Graduation Year: 2009 

Department: Theoretical Philosophy 


Suspect inconsistency: Evaluating inconsistency criticisms in Dutch criminal law


Suppose you find yourself in a criminal courtroom overhearing the following conversation:
Prosecutor: At what time did you leave work on the day of the murder?
Suspect: I left work at six.
Prosecutor: How odd! I gathered you always leave work at five.  But leaving at six would give you a good alibi, would it not?
The prosecutor makes a powerful inconsistency criticism. An inconsistency criticism is an argument in which an arguer points out a conflict between the statement put forward by his discussion partner and at least one of his past actions or statements. The arguer therefrom concludes that the credibility of his discussion partner is diminished. The question is: is the prosecutor’s argument sound or fallacious? In this thesis I develop a method for evaluating inconsistency criticisms in a criminal legal context, with which such questions can be answered satisfactorily. 

Pragma-dialectics provides the theoretical framework of the method. Pragma-dialectics regards argumentation from the viewpoint of a critical discussion. In a critical discussion, a protagonist puts forward a standpoint and an antagonist raises critical doubt towards that standpoint. The protagonist has to show the antagonist that his standpoint can withstand critical questioning by putting forward argumentation. The aim of a critical discussion is to resolve this difference of opinion. Discussion rules have been developed by pragma-dialecticians to ensure this goal is reached. An inconsistency criticism is deemed fallacious when it violates these rules for a critical discussion. However, pragma-dialectics does not provide criteria for determining whether a specific inconsistency criticism indeed violates the discussion rules.

I have striven to provide such criteria. By taking into account the argumentative aspects of sound personal attacks, paying attention to the rules and procedures of the criminal legal context of the criticisms, and assessing whether the criticism allows for the answering of appropriate critical questions, I design a determination scheme for the evaluation of inconsistency criticisms in a criminal legal context. Finally, this determination scheme will be put to the test. I will use it to evaluate inconsistency criticisms made during five Dutch criminal trials. 
Last modified:01 November 2013 2.20 p.m.