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

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  • 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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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Shamena Anwar & Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2019. "A Jury of Her Peers: The Impact of the First Female Jurors on Criminal Convictions," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 129(618), pages 603-650.
    2. Shamena Anwar & Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2019. "Politics in the Courtroom: Political Ideology and Jury Decision Making," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 834-875.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
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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.
    2. 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.
    3. Guimaraesy, Bernardo & Meyerhof Salama, Bruno, 2017. "Contingent judicial deference: theory and application to usury laws," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86146, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    4. Guimarães, Bernardo de Vasconcellos & Salama, Bruno Meyerhof, 2017. "Contingent judicial deference: theory and application to usury laws," Textos para discussão 440, FGV EESP - Escola de Economia de São Paulo, Fundação Getulio Vargas (Brazil).
    5. Crinò, Rosario & Immordino, Giovanni & Piccolo, Salvatore, 2019. "Marginal deterrence at work," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 586-612.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    jury; verdict; conviction; punishment severity; expected punishment; crime; death penalty; English history;
    All these keywords.

    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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