Judicial Errors and Crime Deterrence: Theory and Experimental Evidence
The economic theory of crime deterrence predicts that the conviction of an innocent individual (type I error) is as detrimental to deterrence as the acquittal of a guilty individual (type II error). In this paper, we qualify this result theoretically, showing that in the presence of risk aversion, loss aversion, or type I error aversion, type I errors have a stronger effect on deterrence than type II errors. We test these predictions with two experimental studies in which participants choose whether to steal from other individuals, under alternative combinations of probabilities of judicial errors. The results indicate that both types of errors have a significant impact on deterrence. As predicted, type I errors have a stronger impact on deterrence than type II errors. This asymmetry is entirely explained by differences in the expected utility gains from crime, whereas nonexpected utility factors do not play a significant role.
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