Iphigenia in Forest Hills

We have reasons to be suspicious of storytelling in the law. Stories stir emotions. They play on sympathies. They sometimes defy legal logic.

But they also unveil legal disputes in new and different ways, ways that promote intellectual empathy and sound judgment.

Stories also destabilize our confidence in long-held assumptions about law. Two assumptions, in particular, need challenged:

(1) only legally relevant facts matter when making decisions; and

(2) such facts fit neatly into prescribed legal pigeonholes or categories.

Questioning these assumptions, we might find that facts do not speak for themselves and that relevance should not be left to legal categories alone.

Furthermore, as stories remind us, facts are fickle things. Most legal decisions presume to know both the facts and proper frame of reference for determining those facts. But is this professed certainty about factual matters well founded? How reliable are the law’s fact-finding procedures? Stories highlight factual ambiguity and multiple perspectives, prompting us to view the indeterminacy that underlies much legal decision-making in a new light. This, in turn, can promote a healthy humility and, in some cases, skepticism about factual findings in the law.

We tease out the implications of these ideas in Iphigenia in Forrest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial.

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