People Are Convicted Based on One Witness All The Time

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I rob you on a dark, deserted street at night. You call the police. You describe me. The police find me. You confirm it was me. You testify against me. I go to jail. This sort of thing is completely normal.

Sure, the police and prosecutors would like to have as much evidence as possible. They would like to have another witness, or my DNA, or to find the items that I stole from you in my possession. But if they don’t have any of those additional things—if they only have your own testimony that I robbed you—I have news for you: they will still arrest me. And, if the jury finds your testimony to be credible, they will find me guilty, and I will go to jail.

When I go to jail, you will not hear any United States Senators calling my case a miscarriage of justice.


As has been pointed out many times, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are a job interview, not a criminal trial. This means that these proceedings should reasonably have a lower burden of proof than a judicial trial. But even if this was a criminal trial: so what? What an unbelievable charade to see the entire right half of our political power structure—the portion of the ideological spectrum that prefers punishment over rehabilitation, that adheres to the philosophy of “tough on crime,” and has fueled the mass incarceration epidemic that currently afflicts our nation—suddenly become enamored with a self-serving version of “due process.” Quite suddenly, we have found ourselves faced with a Republican party full of overnight epistemologists who are Very Concerned about the idea that one woman’s testimony could convict a potential judge (if only in the court of public opinion). If due process is what they are concerned about, they should focus their efforts on the place where due process is most routinely attacked with the highest stakes: the criminal justice system.

I do not recall any Republican senators in recent years loudly raising the fact that a person can be convicted of a crime based on the testimony of a single credible victim as a serious threat to fairness and justice. I do not believe any Republican Congressmen have recently filed bills designed to make it impossible to convict, say, a shoplifter or burglar or mugger or violent goon based only upon the credible testimony of the person that they victimized. The issue never arose in their mind. Such a standard is considered unremarkable. It is taken for granted that prosecutors will determine whether the witness is credible and believable and then proceed. Though a lone witness may not be ideal, they will not simply shrug and toss the case away solely because there is only one witness, if that witness’s credibility is strong.


Well over two million Americans are incarcerated today. Some non-negligible portion of them are either incarcerated pending trial because they were identified as a criminal perpetrator by a single witness, or are serving time because they were convicted of a crime based on the testimony of a single witness. If the very idea that someone could suffer consequences due only to the testimony of a single victim is in fact an outrage, certainly the consequence of ending up incarcerated is far more damaging than the consequence of not getting a job. If Republicans truly feel that such testimony from a lone witness—which is, by definition, uncorroborated—is never sufficient to pass judgment on someone, I would have expected them to address this matter in the criminal justice system years ago.

I wonder why they’re only talking about it now?