In the realm of law, facts are the foundation upon which judgments and decisions are made. However, not all facts are created equal, and when bad or inaccurate information is presented, it can lead to flawed legal outcomes. This article delves into the statement “bad facts make bad law,” exploring its origins, implications, and real-life examples. By understanding the significance of accurate facts in legal proceedings, we can appreciate the importance of thorough research and reliable evidence.

The Origins of the Statement

The phrase “bad facts make bad law” has been attributed to various legal scholars throughout history. One prominent figure often associated with this statement is former United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. In his dissenting opinion in the 1927 case of *Olmstead v. United States*, Holmes wrote, “Great cases, like hard cases, make bad law. For great cases are called great, not by reason of their importance… but because of some accident of immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment.”

Holmes’s statement highlights the idea that when cases are driven by emotional or extraordinary circumstances, the resulting legal decisions may fail to uphold broader legal principles or precedents. This concept has since been encapsulated in the phrase “bad facts make bad law.”

The Implications of Bad Facts

When bad or inaccurate facts are presented in a legal setting, they can have far-reaching implications. First and foremost, a judgment based on incorrect or misleading information may lead to an unjust outcome. Legal decisions are meant to be fair, impartial, and grounded in truth. When bad facts are introduced, the very essence of justice is compromised.

Moreover, bad facts can set dangerous precedents. When a flawed decision is made, it becomes part of the legal system’s body of case law, potentially influencing future judgments. This perpetuates a cycle of bad law, as future courts may rely on erroneous rulings as the basis for their own decisions.

Another implication of bad facts is the erosion of public trust in the legal system. When individuals perceive that justice is not being served due to inaccuracies or distortions, they may lose faith in the integrity of the courts. This erosion of trust has profound societal consequences, undermining the rule of law and the fundamental belief in fairness.

Real-Life Examples

To truly grasp the impact of bad facts on legal outcomes, let us examine a few real-life examples where inaccurate information led to flawed decisions.

Example 1: The Case of Joan of Arc

In the early 15th century, Joan of Arc, a young French peasant girl, was accused of heresy and witchcraft. During her trial, Joan faced numerous accusations, including claims of wearing men’s clothing and receiving divine visions. These accusations were based on bad facts, as they were largely a result of misinterpretations and distortions of Joan’s actions and beliefs.

Despite Joan’s steadfast defense and insistence on her innocence, she was ultimately found guilty and burned at the stake in 1431. It was not until nearly 25 years later that her conviction was overturned, revealing the grave consequences of bad facts in the legal process.

Example 2: Plessy v. Ferguson

In the landmark 1896 case of *Plessy v. Ferguson*, bad facts played a significant role in perpetuating racial segregation in the United States. The case revolved around the constitutionality of “separate but equal” facilities for white and black citizens. Homer Plessy, who was of mixed race, intentionally boarded a “whites-only” train car to challenge the segregation laws.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision, which upheld the constitutionality of segregation, was based on flawed factual assumptions. The Court held that segregation was permissible as long as the facilities provided were equal. This ruling set a detrimental precedent, as it legitimized racial segregation for decades to come, reinforcing systemic inequality and discrimination.

Example 3: The Central Park Five

In 1989, a brutal assault and rape occurred in New York City’s Central Park. Five teenagers, four African American and one Hispanic, were wrongfully convicted of the crime, largely due to coerced confessions and flawed evidence. The facts presented during the trial were based on racial bias and a rush to find culprits, rather than a thorough investigation.

It was not until 2002, after serving years in prison, that the Central Park Five were exonerated when DNA evidence linked the crime to another individual. This case serves as a stark reminder of how bad facts can lead to the wrongful conviction of innocent individuals, resulting in a grave miscarriage of justice.


The maxim “bad facts make bad law” reminds us of the critical role accurate information plays in the legal system. From ancient times to modern-day scenarios, the consequences of bad facts have been evident. Flawed legal decisions based on inaccurate or distorted information can lead to unjust outcomes, the establishment of harmful precedents, and a loss of public trust in the legal system.

As individuals, we must strive for accuracy, thoroughness, and integrity when presenting facts in legal proceedings. Judges, lawyers, and juries must remain vigilant in scrutinizing the evidence presented to ensure that justice prevails. By recognizing the significance of reliable facts, we can contribute to a legal system that upholds the principles of fairness, equity, and truth.

Here is an example of an informative table in HTML format that includes all the necessary information about the topic “Who said bad facts make bad law”:


Speaker Quote Meaning
John Marshall “Bad facts make bad law.” John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, is often credited with this famous quote. It means that when a case involves particularly unfavorable or unusual circumstances, the resulting legal decision may not establish a good precedent. This is because the decision may be influenced by the unique facts of the case, rather than being based on a broader legal principle. Such decisions can lead to unintended negative consequences when applied to other cases with different circumstances.


The table consists of three columns: “Speaker,” “Quote,” and “Meaning.” The first row serves as the table header, indicating the content of each column. The second row contains the information related to the topic. John Marshall is mentioned as the speaker, the quote “Bad facts make bad law” is provided, and the meaning behind the quote is explained in the third column.


Who said “bad facts make bad law”?

The quote “bad facts make bad law” is often attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., an influential American jurist and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.


What does the quote “bad facts make bad law” mean?

The quote suggests that when a court makes a decision based on specific and unusual circumstances (bad facts), it may set a precedent that is not applicable or fair in other cases (bad law).

1. Can you provide an example of how bad facts can lead to bad law?

For example, if a court makes a ruling based on an extreme and unique case, it may create a precedent that is not suitable for more common situations. This can lead to unjust outcomes and a lack of consistency in the application of the law.

2. How does the quote relate to the legal system?

The quote serves as a cautionary reminder for judges and legal professionals to consider the broader implications of their decisions. It highlights the importance of avoiding hasty or emotionally-driven judgments that could result in unjust or impractical laws.

3. Why is it important to avoid bad law?

Bad law can have detrimental effects on society as it can lead to unfair treatment, inconsistency, and confusion within the legal system. It can undermine the principles of justice and hinder the pursuit of equality and fairness.

4. Can bad facts always lead to bad law?

While bad facts can contribute to the creation of bad law, it is not a guarantee. Judges have the responsibility to critically analyze the facts of a case, consider legal principles, and strive to create fair and just outcomes. Good judgment and thorough legal reasoning can help prevent bad law from being established.

5. How can bad law be remedied?

In some cases, bad law can be remedied through the appellate process, where higher courts can review and overturn erroneous judgments. Additionally, legislative action can be taken to amend or repeal laws that are considered bad or unjust. Public awareness and engagement can also play a role in advocating for legal reforms.

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