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A Right to Silence for Civil Defendants?


  • Abraham L. Wickelgren


The Fifth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to silence, blocking the court from drawing adverse inferences from the defendant's silence. This article investigates the conditions under which extending such protection to civil defendants might increase (or decrease) social welfare. If discovery is imperfect, then defendants who acquire information about the dangerousness of their actions may hide this evidence at trial if it is bad. This tends to make the private benefit from acquiring such information exceed the social benefit. Furthermore, the private benefit from acquiring this information is greater when the court will infer the information is bad if the defendant does not present it. Thus, there are situations in which a right to silence may be necessary to prevent a defendant from acquiring information for which the social costs exceed the social benefit. On the other hand, if it is hard to hide damaging information and the release of damaging information tends to induce lawsuits, then a right to silence may dampen already insufficient incentives to acquire information. (JEL K40, K41) The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Yale University. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Abraham L. Wickelgren, 2010. "A Right to Silence for Civil Defendants?," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(1), pages 92-114, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:26:y:2010:i:1:p:92-114

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    Cited by:

    1. Mialon, Hugo M. & Mialon, Sue H. & Stinchcombe, Maxwell B., 2012. "Torture in counterterrorism: Agency incentives and slippery slopes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(1), pages 33-41.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General
    • K41 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Litigation Process


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