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The Optimal Standard of Proof in Criminal Law When Both Fairness and Deterrence Matter


  • Lando, Henrik

    (Department of Finance, Copenhagen Business School)


This paper addresses the issue of the optimal standard of proof in crim-inal law. It is assumed that people in society care about both fairness and deterrence. It is important to punish those who are guilty and only those. However, error is unavoidable and hence a trade-o¤ emerges between the three aims of punishing the guilty, not punishing the innocent and deterring potential criminals. It is shown that when only deterrence matters the op-timal standard of proof is a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard (given some other assumptions) while if fairness is an issue the standard will gen-erally be stricter and involve Bayesian up-dating. When both fairness and deterrence matter the standard of proof will (generally) lie in between the two standards. An example illustrates how the model might be applied in practice to determine the optimal standard of proof for a given crime.

Suggested Citation

  • Lando, Henrik, 2000. "The Optimal Standard of Proof in Criminal Law When Both Fairness and Deterrence Matter," Working Papers 2000-7, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Finance.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:cbsfin:2000_007

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Steven Shavell, 2003. "Economic Analysis of Accident Law," NBER Working Papers 9694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Lando, Henrik, 1997. "An attempt to incorporate fairness into an economic model of tort law," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(4), pages 575-587, December.
    4. Polinsky, A Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1989. "Legal Error, Litigation, and the Incentive to Obey the Law," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(1), pages 99-108, Spring.
    5. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1982. "The optimum enforcement of laws and the concept of justice: A positive analysis," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 3-27, June.
    6. Peter Diamond, 2002. "Integrating Punishment and Efficiency Concerns in Punitive Damages for Reckless Disregard of Risks to Others," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 18(1), pages 117-139, April.
    7. Kaplow, Louis, 1994. "The Value of Accuracy in Adjudication: An Economic Analysis," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(1), pages 307-401, January.
    8. 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.
    9. Miceli, Thomas J., 1991. "Optimal criminal procedure: Fairness and deterrence," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 3-10, May.
    10. Png, I. P. L., 1986. "Optimal subsidies and damages in the presence of judicial error," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 101-105, June.
    11. James Andreoni, 1991. "Reasonable Doubt and the Optimal Magnitude of Fines: Should the Penalty Fit the Crime?," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(3), pages 385-395, Autumn.
    12. Garoupa, Nuno, 1997. " The Theory of Optimal Law Enforcement," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(3), pages 267-295, September.
    13. Grossman, Gene M & Katz, Michael L, 1983. "Plea Bargaining and Social Welfare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 749-757, September.
    14. Miceli, Thomas J, 1990. "Optimal Prosecution of Defendants Whose Guilt Is Uncertain," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 189-201, Spring.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lehmann, Markus A., 2002. "Error minimization and deterrence in agency control," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(4), pages 373-391, May.
    2. Juan José Ganuza & Fernando Gomez & Jose Penalva, 2015. "Minimizing errors, maximizing incentives: Optimal court decisions and the quality of evidence," Economics Working Papers 1500, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    3. Derek Pyne, 2004. "Can Making It Harder to Convict Criminals Ever Reduce Crime?," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 18(2), pages 191-201, September.

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    JEL classification:

    • A00 - General Economics and Teaching - - General - - - General


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