Judicial Notice

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Clashing Standards in the Courtroom: Judicial Notice of Scientific Facts

By Gregory Segal

The doctrine of judicial notice, contained in Rule 201 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, serves as a powerful tool for judges to bring in adjudicative facts without introducing any witnesses. Given the broad language of Rule 201(b), federal courts have used this doctrine for a wide and expanding range of materials. When a fact is judicially noticed, its impact is tremendous: in civil cases, under Rule 201(f), a jury must treat any fact that has been judicially noticed as conclusive. Judicial notice can be applied to scientific facts, but little attention has been paid to how judicial notice operates vis-à-vis the high bar set for the admission of expert scientific testimony under Daubert.

This Note explores this possibility. It begins by explaining the mechanics of judicial notice and the Daubert standard, and looks at how judicial notice has been applied to certain scientific facts. The Note identifies potential problems with current approaches: misapplication of Rule 201 with scientific facts and the possibility of evidence getting in via the judicial notice standard but not under Daubert. This Note argues that transparency is the key to avoiding these problems, such as judges providing more detailed explanations when taking judicial notice, applying Daubert in their judicial notice analysis, and more clearly citing precedent in taking judicial notice.

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