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Criminal Law and Behavioral Law and Economics: Observations on the Neglected Role of Uncertainty in Deterring Crime

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  • Harel, Alon
  • Segal, Uzi

Abstract

Criminal sanctions are usually public, stable and predictable. In contrast, the practices governing the determination of the probability of detection and conviction reinforce uncertainty. We invoke psychological insights to illustrate that criminals prefer a scheme in which the size of the sentence is uncertain while the probability of detection and conviction is certain. Consequently, the choice to increase certainty with respect to the size of the sentence and to decrease certainty with respect to the probability of detection and conviction can be justified on the grounds that such a scheme is disfavored by criminals and consequently has better deterrent effects. Copyright 1999 by Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Harel, Alon & Segal, Uzi, 1999. "Criminal Law and Behavioral Law and Economics: Observations on the Neglected Role of Uncertainty in Deterring Crime," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(1-2), pages 276-312, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:1:y:1999:i:1-2:p:276-312
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    2. Schmeidler, David, 1989. "Subjective Probability and Expected Utility without Additivity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(3), pages 571-587, May.
    3. Polinsky, A Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1999. "On the Disutility and Discounting of Imprisonment and the Theory of Deterrence," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(1), pages 1-16, January.
    4. Bebchuk, Lucian Arye & Kaplow, Louis, 1993. "Optimal sanctions and differences in individuals' likelihood of avoiding detection," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 217-224, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. David Dickinson & E. Glenn Dutcher & Cortney Rodet, 2015. "Observed punishment spillover effects: a laboratory investigation of behavior in a social dilemma," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 18(1), pages 136-153, March.
    2. Gregory DeAngelo & Gary Charness, 2012. "Deterrence, expected cost, uncertainty and voting: Experimental evidence," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 44(1), pages 73-100, February.
    3. van Winden Frans A.A.M. & Ash Elliott, 2012. "On the Behavioral Economics of Crime," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 181-213, June.
    4. Lisa R. Anderson & Gregory DeAngelo & Winand Emons & Beth Freeborn & Hannes Lang, 2017. "Penalty Structures And Deterrence In A Two-Stage Model: Experimental Evidence," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 55(4), pages 1833-1867, October.
    5. Nuno Garoupa, 2003. "Behavioral Economic Analysis of Crime: A Critical Review," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 5-15, January.
    6. Dai, Zhixin & Hogarth, Robin M. & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2015. "Ambiguity on audits and cooperation in a public goods game," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 146-162.
    7. Chiu, W.Henry & Madden, Paul, 2007. "Crime, punishment, and background risks," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 62(4), pages 543-555, April.

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