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How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts: Evidence from Two Natural Experiments


  • Anna Bindler
  • Randi Hjalmarsson


This paper studies the effect of punishment severity on jury decision-making using archival data from London's Old Bailey Criminal Court from 1772 to 1871. We exploit two natural experiments in English history, resulting in sharp decreases in punishment severity: the offense-specific abolition of capital punishment and the temporary halt of penal transportation during the American Revolution. Using difference-in-differences to study the former and a pre-post design for the latter, we find a large, significant and permanent impact on jury behavior: juries are more likely to convict overall and across crime categories. Moreover, the effect size differs with defendants' gender.

Suggested Citation

  • Anna Bindler & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2018. "How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts: Evidence from Two Natural Experiments," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 36-78, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejpol:v:10:y:2018:i:4:p:36-78
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/pol.20170214

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    Cited by:

    1. Bindler, Anna L & Hjalmarsson, Randi, 2019. "The Impact of the First Professional Police Forces on Crime," CEPR Discussion Papers 14068, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Anna Bindler & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2019. "Path Dependency in Jury Decision Making," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 17(6), pages 1971-2017.
    3. Anna Bindler & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2020. "The Persistence of the Criminal Justice Gender Gap: Evidence from 200 Years of Judicial Decisions," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63(2), pages 297-339.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K41 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Litigation Process
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913


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