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Convictions versus Conviction Rates: The Prosecutor's Choice

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  • Eric Rasmusen
  • Manu Raghav
  • Mark Ramseyer

Abstract

It is natural to suppose that a prosecutor's conviction rate--the ratio of convictions to cases prosecuted--is a sign of his competence. Prosecutors, however, choose which cases to prosecute. If they prosecute only the strongest cases, they will have high conviction rates. Any system that pays attention to conviction rates, as opposed to the number of convictions, is liable to abuse. As a prosecutor's budget increases, he allocates it between prosecuting more cases and putting more effort into existing cases. Either can be socially desirable, depending on particular circumstances. We model the tradeoffs theoretically in two models, one of a benevolent social planner and one of a prosecutor who values not just the number of convictions but the conviction rate and unrelated personal goals. We apply the model to U.S. data drawn from county-level crime statistics and a survey of all state prosecutors by district. Conviction rates do have a small negative correlation with prosecutorial budgets, but conditioning on other variables in regression analysis, higher budgets are associated both with more prosecutions and higher conviction rates. Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric Rasmusen & Manu Raghav & Mark Ramseyer, 2009. "Convictions versus Conviction Rates: The Prosecutor's Choice," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 47-78.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:11:y:2009:i:1:p:47-78
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    Cited by:

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    3. Germani, Anna Rita & Morone, Andrea & Morone, Piergiuseppe & Scaramozzino, Pasquale, 2013. "Discretionary enforcement and strategic interactions between firms, regulatory agency and justice department: a theoretical and empirical investigation," MPRA Paper 51369, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Engel, Christoph & Reuben, Alicja, 2015. "The people's hired guns? Experimentally testing the motivating force of a legal frame," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 67-82.
    5. Mongrain, Steeve & Roberts, Joanne, 2009. "Plea bargaining with budgetary constraints," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 8-12, March.
    6. Garoupa, Nuno, 2009. "Some reflections on the economics of prosecutors: Mandatory vs. selective prosecution," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 25-28, March.
    7. Dhammika Dharmapala & Nuno Garoupa & Richard H. McAdams, 2016. "Punitive Police? Agency Costs, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Procedure," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(1), pages 105-141.
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    9. Anna Rita Germani & Pasquale Scaramozzino & Andrea Morone & Piergiuseppe Morone, 2017. "Discretionary enforcement and strategic interactions between enforcement agencies and firms: a theoretical and laboratory investigation," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 52(3), pages 255-284, December.
    10. Matthew E.K. Hall, 2017. "Macro Implementation: Testing the Causal Paths from U.S. Macro Policy to Federal Incarceration," American Journal of Political Science, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 61(2), pages 438-455, April.
    11. Christian Almer & Timo Goeschl, 2011. "The political economy of the environmental criminal justice system: a production function approach," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 148(3), pages 611-630, September.
    12. SIDDHARTHA BANDYOPADHYAY & BRYAN C. McCANNON, 2015. "Prosecutorial Retention: Signaling by Trial," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 17(2), pages 219-256, April.
    13. James E. Alt & David Dreyer Lassen, 2010. "Enforcement and Public Corruption: Evidence from US States," EPRU Working Paper Series 2010-08, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    14. Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay & Bryan C McCannon, 2011. "The Redistricting of Public Prosecutors' Offices," Discussion Papers 11-13, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
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