IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Ambiguity Aversion and the Criminal Process


  • Uzi Segal

    () (Boston College)

  • Alex Stein

    (Benjamin N. Cardoso School of Law)


This is the first article to examine the effects of ambiguity aversion on the criminal process. Ambiguity aversion is a person’s rational attitude towards probability's indeterminacy. When a person is averse towards such ambiguities, he increases the probability of the unfavorable outcome to reflect that fear. This observation is particularly true about a criminal defendant who faces a jury trial. Neither the defendant nor the prosecution knows whether the jury will convict the defendant. Their best estimation relies on a highly generalized probability that attaches to a broad category of similar cases. The prosecution, as a repeat player, is predominantly interested in the conviction rate that it achieves over a long series of cases. It therefore can depend on this general probability as an adequate predictor of this rate. The defendant only cares about his individual case and cannot depend on this general probability. From the defendant's perspective, his individual probability of conviction is ambiguous. The defendant consequently increases this probability to reflect his fear of that ambiguity. Because most defendants are ambiguity-averse, while the prosecution is not, the criminal process systematically involves and is thoroughly affected by asymmetric ambiguity-aversion.

Suggested Citation

  • Uzi Segal & Alex Stein, 2005. "Ambiguity Aversion and the Criminal Process," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 615, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 27 Jul 2006.
  • Handle: RePEc:boc:bocoec:615

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: main text
    Download Restriction: no


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

    Cited by:

    1. Francisco Estrada & Carlos Gay & Cecilia Conde, 2012. "A methodology for the risk assessment of climate variability and change under uncertainty. A case study: coffee production in Veracruz, Mexico," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 113(2), pages 455-479, July.
    2. Ziv Naor, 2015. "Why a small probability of terror generates a large macroeconomic impact," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 26(6), pages 583-599, December.
    3. Benjamin Miranda Tabak & Dimas Mateus Fazio, 2010. "Ambiguity Aversion and Illusion of Control in an Emerging Market: Are Individuals Subject to Behavioral Biases?," Chapters,in: Handbook of Behavioral Finance, chapter 20 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. repec:eee:eecrev:v:101:y:2018:i:c:p:268-283 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    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:boc:bocoec:615. 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: (Christopher F Baum). 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.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using 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.