Responses to More Severe Punishment in the Courtroom: Evidence from Truth-in-Sentencing Laws
We investigate behavioral responses of judges and prosecutors to more severe punishments by analyzing the effects of Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) laws in a large sample of individual criminal cases. The TIS laws raised effective punishment by requiring offenders to serve at least 85% of their imposed sentence in prison. Differences between the U.S. states in the timing of adoption and the types of crimes covered provide a source of identification. The key findings are: (1) The TIS laws reduced the probability that an arrested offender is eventually convicted by 25% through an increase in the probability that the case is dismissed, a reduction in the probability that the defendant pleads guilty, and a reduction in the probability that the defendant is convicted at trial. (2) The TIS laws the reduced the imposed sentence that a defendant may expect upon arrest by 14%. The behavioral responses are empirically important to partially mitigate the intended deterrent effect of the TIS laws.
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