When is Disbelief Epistemic Injustice? Criminal Procedure, Recovered Memories, and Deformations of the Epistemic Subject

Criminal Law and Philosophy:1-28 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

People can be treated unjustly with respect to the level of credibility others accord to their testimony. This is the core idea of the philosophical idea of epistemic justice. It should be of utmost interest to criminal law which extensively deals with normative issues of evidence and testimony. It may reconstruct some of the long-standing criticisms of criminal law regarding credibility assessments and the treatment of witnesses, especially in sexual assault cases. However, philosophical discussions often overlook the intricate complexities of real procedural law and its underlying considerations. In its present form, the philosophical notion of epistemic injustice provides limited insights into legal discourse; it necessitates translation and adaptation. This study contributes to this endeavor by examining the contentious issue of testimony from witnesses who have undergone trauma-focused psychotherapy. Since the 1980s, courts worldwide were troubled with cases of false accusations based on false memories generated by suggestive therapeutic interventions. As a result, such post-therapy testimonies are discounted in one way or another in many jurisdictions. However, courts are still confronted with such testimonies, and the modi vivendi legal systems have established to deal with them continue to give rise to concerns about unjust treatment of witnesses. The question is thus whether legal rules or established practices of evaluating testimony based on memories which resurfaced after psychotherapy are epistemically and legally just. The paper presents seven ways in which courts may assess such testimonies and examines them in light of epistemic and procedural justice. Some of them prima facie constitute a form of epistemic injustice because they discount testimonies to an unwarranted degree. But these injustices might be justified by overriding principles favoring defendants. Nonetheless, the idea of epistemic justice, more broadly understood, inspires two principles that may serve as a foundation for a future conception of epistemic justice adapted to the law.

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