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Witness Intimidation

Listed author(s):
  • Brendan O'Flaherty
  • Rajiv Sethi

Witness intimidation involves strategic complexity and two-sided uncertainty: criminals cannot know whether threats will deter witnesses, and witnesses cannot know whether threats will be carried out. We model this interaction and explore how rates of intimidation, testimony, and conviction respond to changes in the value of testimony, relations between the police and the community, and witness protection programs. If the value of testimony rises, criminals face stronger incentives to threaten, but threats are less credible. The increase in threats may be large enough to offset the greater value of testimony, with the paradoxical outcome that fewer criminals are convicted. Counterintuitive results are most likely when witness intimidation is a severe problem: few witnesses testify although prosecutors are competent. When the harm faced by witnesses depends on whether the criminal is convicted, communities can be trapped in equilibria with collective silence: no witness testifies because none expects others to testify.

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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal The Journal of Legal Studies.

Volume (Year): 39 (2010)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 399-432

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:doi:10.1086/649032
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References listed on IDEAS
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  1. Marvell, Thomas B & Moody, Carlisle E, 2001. "The Lethal Effects of Three-Strikes Laws," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 89-106, January.
  2. Steven Shavell & A. Mitchell Polinsky, 2000. "The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 45-76, March.
  3. Arun S. Malik, 1990. "Avoidance, Screening and Optimum Enforcement," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(3), pages 341-353, Autumn.
  4. Rajiv Sethi, 2009. "Why Have Robberies Become Less Frequent but More Violent?," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(2), pages 518-534, October.
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