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The Effect of the Election of Prosecutors on Criminal Trials

  • Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay
  • Bryan C McCannon

We examine if elections of public prosecutors (as is common in the U.S.) influence the way they handle cases. In particular, does it affect which cases are taken to trial? A theoretical model is constructed where voters use outcomes of the criminal justice system as a signal of prosecutor's quality. This leads to a distortion of the mix of cases they take to trial. Our results imply that when re-election pressures are high (i) prosecutors take too many cases to trial. This increases the number of convictions from trial and reduces the amount of plea bargaining so that (ii) the proportion of convictions stemming from trial increases. Consequently, (iii) the average sanction obtained in both jury trials and plea bargains decreases. A detailed dataset from North Carolina is used to identify empirical evidence of such distortions. Our empirical findsings verify that elections do affect the decision of which cases to take to trial and confirms our predictions.

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File URL: ftp://ftp.bham.ac.uk/pub/RePEc/pdf/11-08.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Birmingham in its series Discussion Papers with number 11-08.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bir:birmec:11-08
Contact details of provider: Postal: Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT
Web page: http://www.economics.bham.ac.uk

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  1. Carlos Berdejó & Noam Yuchtman, 2013. "Crime, Punishment, and Politics: An Analysis of Political Cycles in Criminal Sentencing," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(3), pages 741-756, July.
  2. Farmer, Amy & Pecorino, Paul, 2002. "Pretrial bargaining with self-serving bias and asymmetric information," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 163-176, June.
  3. Sumon Majumdar & Sharun W. Mukand, 2004. "Policy Gambles," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0407, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  4. Kenneth Rogoff & Anne Sibert, 1986. "Elections and Macroeconomic Policy Cycles," NBER Working Papers 1838, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay & Mandar Oak, 2010. "Conflict and Leadership: Why is There a Hawkish Drift in Politics?," Discussion Papers 10-04, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
  6. Kenneth Rogoff, 1987. "Equilibrium Political Budget Cycles," NBER Working Papers 2428, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Landes, William M, 1971. "An Economic Analysis of the Courts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(1), pages 61-107, April.
  8. Joanna M. Shepherd, 2009. "The Influence of Retention Politics on Judges' Voting," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(1), pages 169-206, 01.
  9. Eric Rasmusen & Manu Raghav, & Mark Ramseyer, 2008. "Convictions versus Conviction Rates: The Prosecutor’s Choice," Working Papers 2008-16, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
  10. Clare Leaver, 2009. "Bureaucratic Minimal Squawk Behavior: Theory and Evidence from Regulatory Agencies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 572-607, June.
  11. Richard T. Boylan, 2005. "What Do Prosecutors Maximize? Evidence from the Careers of U.S. Attorneys," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(2), pages 379-402.
  12. Hanssen, F Andrew, 1999. "The Effect of Judicial Institutions on Uncertainty and the Rate of Litigation: The Election versus Appointment of State Judges," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(1), pages 205-32, January.
  13. Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay & Bryan C McCannon, 2010. "Prosecutorial Retention: Signaling by Trial," Discussion Papers 10-11, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
  14. Boylan, Richard T & Long, Cheryl X, 2005. "Salaries, Plea Rates, and the Career Objectives of Federal Prosecutors," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(2), pages 627-51, October.
  15. Hanssen, F Andrew, 2000. "Independent Courts and Administrative Agencies: An Empirical Analysis of the States," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(2), pages 534-71, October.
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