More on Bennett’s Chainsaw

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Bennett’s Chainsaw, which is the principle that:

The more things you must contest and the more explanations you must provide in order to mount a defense, the more likely it is that you will be convicted.

Here is the first corollary to Bennett’s Chainsaw:

In the defense of a criminal case, the second-simplest explanation that accounts for all of the government’s admissible evidence is generally the best.

Why the second-simplest explanation?

Drop me a comment if you think you know.

Technorati Tags: criminal defense, strategy


  1. the simplest is the fact that your client is guilty. why? because he’s sitting right there in front of the jury as the defendant.

  2. I have to disagree with matlock. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? I think its the second explanation because the first is too obvious and a good lawyer will keep digging until they can find another explanation.

  3. you’re definitely overthinking things. If the simplest explanation is that your client did in fact steal the popsicle, then your best strategy would be to take the second simplest explanation because it implies that your client did not in fact steal the popsicle and it does not ask people to go out on a limb of weird logic for you.

    For the same reason, if the simplest explanation refers to the most obvious reason why your client didn’t do it, ie he was in a coma, and the second simplest reason refers to proving that your client took a plane ride to minneapolis the day before and that his plane landed at such a time that he couldn’t have gotten back in time even if he’d hopped on another plane right then and there, then the simpler explanation is way better because it’s less likely to confuse a jury. This whole “too obvious” line of reasoning is ridiculous. “I’m sorry mr defense attorney, it was too obvious that the defendant is black and so doesn’t match the ‘tall white man with a gun’ description that all 5 witnesses gave. Maybe if you had gone with something relating to gunshot residue, things might have turned out better.”

    The simplest explanation that doesn’t include your guilt is the best because the shorter, simpler, and less rediculous your story is the less likely it is that people will think you’re lying, to say nothing of the fact that juries are already tired, stupid, and have short attention spans, much like the rest of us. Why do we all believe that lee harvey oswald did it? because the second best explanation is an incredibly complicated conspiracy involving the CIA, cuba, organized crime, and lyndon johnson all working together like some sort of nutjob task force. If there was a simpler defense, like that lee was deaf, blind, and paralyzed, people might take it a little more seriously.

  4. I propose and possibly second ( I think ) the notion that the first explanation because it is the most obvious and usually the simplest explanation is often too simple for juries to accept. Somewhat akin to the Princess Bride’s Vizzini’s theory of evaluating the poisonous cup: the first one offered can never be the right one.

  5. What is this? The jackie chiles school of defense law? Confuse and mystify the jury until they are hypnotized into believing that you actually put on an amazing case?

  6. I always ask jury panels “When you came in here and saw my client, how many of you asked ‘I wonder what he did?'” The reason for that is because my client is sitting there in front of the jury with the spotlight of the government’s accusation upon them. Innocent until proven guilty is good in theory, but every juror that sits in a trial is looking at the defendant and listening to evidence through the filter of looking at my client and wondering if he really did it.

  7. Clearly, the simplest explanation that includes all of the admissible evidence is the one that the prosecutor is pushing forward with all her publicity seeking fervor already. After all, why would police and prosecutors look for, gather, or credit evidence that did not support the conclusion they had come to in advance?

  8. I concur with saxon-cory. The simplest explanation is the one already being proffered for the admission of the evidence. Thus, the second-simplest is the one that makes that evidence work for the defense. Hence, the second-simplest explanation is the explanation that corresponds with Bennett’s Chainsaw but does not correspond with the prosecution’s case.

  9. this assumes that the prosecution is actually playing the simplest explanation. what if the prosecutor’s actually playing a weird circumstantial conspiracy type case?

  10. Colin was the first to get it right. The second-simplest explanation for the government’s admissible evidence is (generally) best because the simplest evidence for the government’s admissible evidence is guilt. After all, they get to choose their evidence.

    There are cases in which the simplest explanation for the government’s admissible evidence is innocence. In those cases, which are by no means uncommon, the prosecutor has screwed up.

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