USU student presents work on Doctrine of Chances at state capitol

Photo courtesy Utah State Law Library.

LOGAN –Utah State University student Ryan Wallentine’s work on Doctrine of Chances started as math research for his honors thesis, but last week he was able to present it to many at the Utah State Capitol, including several legislators.

Doctrine of Chances is a type of evidence used to show the unlikelihood a defendant would innocently and repeatedly be involved in similar suspicious situations. Wallentine mentioned George Joseph Smith, an English serial killer, as an example. Before Smith’s arrest and execution in 1915, he married three women who were each later found drowned in a bathtub.

“I think that case sums up, or illustrates it pretty well,” Wallentine said. “It was very unlikely that he would be in those circumstances innocently, multiple times.”

Wallentine said he has been working to discover a threshold percentage in which Doctrine of Chances could be used as prosecution in rape cases, but said he’s not quite there yet.

“At the moment it is still kind of in process,” he said. “It is at a temporary conclusion stage where I have enough data and calculations to be able to come to some kind of conclusion, but it is by no way completely finished yet.”

Wallentine said he first looked at studies that show what percentages of rapists are serial offenders. He then looked at statistics from RAINN, an anti-sexual assault organization, to calculate the chances of an innocent person being prosecuted, and then the chances they would be prosecuted twice.

“The research I’m doing isn’t necessarily applicable to prosecuting more people but it applies most once they’re being prosecuted,” he said.

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