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Time-Consistent Criminal Sanctions


  • Boadway, Robin
  • Marceau, Nicolas
  • Marchand, Maurice


A classic argument in the theory of crime is that optimal enforcement policy should involve maximal sanctions combined with minimal detection costs. Yet this is rarely observed in the real world. We argue that reson for this has to do with the time inconsistency of such a policy. If sanctions are only applied after a crime has been committed, the enforcement authority are only reluctant to impose a high sanction since it will no longer have any deterrent effect. We show in a simple one period setting that if the enforcement authority can commit to its announced sanctions, the classic result is obtained. However, if the enforcement authority cannot commit, a minimal sanction with no enforcement effort is obtained. These extreme outcomes can be avoided in a setting in which crimes and enforcement occur repeatedly and the authority is able to build a reputation.
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Suggested Citation

  • Boadway, Robin & Marceau, Nicolas & Marchand, Maurice, 1996. "Time-Consistent Criminal Sanctions," Public Finance = Finances publiques, , vol. 51(2), pages 149-165.
  • Handle: RePEc:pfi:pubfin:v:51:y:1996:i:2:p:149-65

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. L. A. Franzoni, 1995. "Prosecutorial Discretion and Criminal Deterrence," Working Papers 234, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    2. Matthew Baker & Thomas Miceli, 2005. "Credible Criminal Enforcement," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 20(1), pages 5-15, July.
    3. Joanne Roberts, 2000. "Plea Bargaining with Budgetary Constraints and Deterrence," Working Papers jorob-00-01, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    4. Fabel, Oliver & Meier, Volker, 1999. "Optimal parole decisions1," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 159-166, June.
    5. Dominique Demougin & Claude Fluet, 1999. "Costly Sanctions and the Maximum Penalty Principle," Cahiers de recherche CREFE / CREFE Working Papers 100, CREFE, Université du Québec à Montréal.
    6. Chongwoo Choe & Iain Fraser, 1999. "Compliance Monitoring and Agri-Environmental Policy," Journal of Agricultural Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(3), pages 468-487.
    7. De Geest, Gerrit & Dari-Mattiacci, Giuseppe & Siegers, Jacques J., 2009. "Annullable bonuses and penalties," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 349-359, December.
    8. Marceau, Nicolas & Mongrain, Steeve, 1999. "Dissuader le crime : un survol," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 75(1), pages 123-147, mars-juin.
    9. Suurmond, Guido, 2007. "The effects of the enforcement strategy," MPRA Paper 21142, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. M. Martin Boyer, 2001. "Resistance is Futile: An Essay in Crime and Commitment," CIRANO Working Papers 2001s-58, CIRANO.
    11. Robin Boadway & Motohiro Sato, 2000. "The Optimality of Punishing Only the Innocent: The Case of Tax Evasion," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 7(6), pages 641-664, December.
    12. Jost, Peter-J, 2001. "Crime, coordination, and punishment: An economic analysis," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 23-46, March.

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