IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Witness Intimidation


  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Brendan O'Flaherty & Rajiv Sethi, 2010. "Witness Intimidation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(2), pages 399-432.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:doi:10.1086/649032

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Arun S. Malik, 1990. "Avoidance, Screening and Optimum Enforcement," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(3), pages 341-353, Autumn.
    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. 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.
    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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. O’Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2015. "Urban Crime," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:doi:10.1086/649032. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Journals Division). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.