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The Fall of Capital Punishment and the Rise of Prisons: How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts

Author

Listed:
  • Bindler, Anna

    () (Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)

  • Hjalmarsson, Randi

    () (Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)

Abstract

This paper studies the effect of punishment severity on jury decision-making using a large archival data set from the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London from 1715 to 1900. We take advantage of three natural experiments in English history, which result in sharp decreases in punishment severity: The offense specific abolition of capital punishment in the 1800s, the temporary halt of penal transportation during the American Revolution, and the abolition of transportation in 1853. Using a difference-in-differences design to study the abolition of the death penalty and pre-post designs to study the temporary and permanent halts to transportation, we find that decreasing expected punishment (especially via the end of the death penalty), had a large and significant impact on jury behavior, generally leading to the jury being ‘harsher’. Moreover, we find that the size of the effect differs with defendants’ gender and criminal history. These results raise concerns about the impartiality of juries as well as the implicit assumption often made when designing and evaluating criminal justice policies today – that the chance of conviction is independent of the harshness of the penalty.

Suggested Citation

  • Bindler, Anna & Hjalmarsson, Randi, 2016. "The Fall of Capital Punishment and the Rise of Prisons: How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts," Working Papers in Economics 674, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:gunwpe:0674
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/48462
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Voth, Hans-Joachim, 1998. "Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(01), pages 29-58, March.
    2. 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.
    3. Steven D. Levitt, 1996. "The Effect of Prison Population Size on Crime Rates: Evidence from Prison Overcrowding Litigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 319-351.
    4. Shawn D. Bushway & Emily G. Owens & Anne Morrison Piehl, 2011. "Sentencing Guidelines and Judicial Discretion: Quasi-experimental Evidence from Human Calculation Errors," NBER Working Papers 16961, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2016. "Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 131(4), pages 1727-1752.
    6. Bjerk, David, 2005. "Making the Crime Fit the Penalty: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion under Mandatory Minimum Sentencing," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(2), pages 591-625, October.
    7. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2009. "The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(2), pages 257-280, April.
    8. Shamena Anwar & Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2015. "Politics in the Courtroom: Political Ideology and Jury Decision Making," NBER Working Papers 21145, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. David S. Abrams & Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2012. "Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 41(2), pages 347-383.
    10. John J. Donohue III & Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," NBER Working Papers 11982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2009. "The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence," Working Papers 1171, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    12. McCrary, Justin & Lee, David S., 2009. "The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt2gh1r30h, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
    13. David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2009. "The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence," Working Papers 1168, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
    14. Shamena Anwar & Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2014. "The Role of Age in Jury Selection and Trial Outcomes," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 57(4), pages 1001-1030.
    15. Shamena Anwar & Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2016. "A Jury of Her Peers: The Impact of the First Female Jurors on Criminal Convictions," NBER Working Papers 21960, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Chris Vickers & Nicolas L. Ziebarth, 2016. "Economic Development and the Demographics of Criminals in Victorian England," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(1), pages 191-223.
    17. repec:pri:cepsud:189lee is not listed on IDEAS
    18. David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2009. "The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence," Working Papers 1171, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    19. Morgan Kelly & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2015. "Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution," Working Papers 201505, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    20. Radha Iyengar, 2011. "Who's the Fairest in the Land? Analysis of Judge and Jury Death Penalty Decisions," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(3), pages 693-722.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Off with his head? Capital punishment and jurors’ dilemmas in 19th and 20th century Britain
      by crowleymarkj in NEP-HIS blog on 2016-11-03 17:08:42

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    Cited by:

    1. Crin�, Rosario & Immordino, Giovanni & Piccolo, Salvatore, 2017. "Marginal Deterrence at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 12023, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    jury; verdict; conviction; punishment severity; expected punishment; crime; death penalty; English history;

    JEL classification:

    • H00 - Public Economics - - General - - - General
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General
    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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