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The scope of criminal law and criminal sanctions: An economic view and policy implications


  • Roger Bowles

    () (University of York)

  • Michael Faure

    () (Maastricht University)

  • Nuno Garoupa

    () (University of Illinois and IMDEA Social Sciences)


This paper considers why some harm-generating activities are controlled by criminal law and criminal sanctions while others are subject to some other mechanism such as civil law, administrative law, regulation or the tax system. It looks at the question from the perspective of the law and economics approach. We seek to identify the comparative benefits of using the criminal law relative to other enforcement mechanisms and – more broadly – why certain specific behaviours are criminalized. The paper argues that an economic approach emphasizing the relative merits of alternative legal instruments for bringing about harm reduction can provide an explanation for a number of recent legal developments. It argues also that the willingness of legislators to combine the use of sanctions traditionally used in one area of the law with sanctions from other areas is more readily explicable in economic terms than in other terms.

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  • Roger Bowles & Michael Faure & Nuno Garoupa, 2008. "The scope of criminal law and criminal sanctions: An economic view and policy implications," Working Papers 2008-03, Instituto Madrileño de Estudios Avanzados (IMDEA) Ciencias Sociales.
  • Handle: RePEc:imd:wpaper:wp2008-03

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Malcolm B. Coate & Andrew N. Kleit, 1998. "Does it matter that the prosecutor is also the judge? The administrative complaint process at the Federal Trade Commission," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(1), pages 1-11.
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    5. Boari, Nicola & Fiorentini, Gianluca, 2001. "An economic analysis of plea bargaining: the incentives of the parties in a mixed penal system," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 213-231, June.
    6. Eric Rasmusen & Manu Raghav & Mark Ramseyer, 2009. "Convictions versus Conviction Rates: The Prosecutor's Choice," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 47-78.
    7. 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.
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    9. Richard T. Boylan, 2005. "What Do Prosecutors Maximize? Evidence from the Careers of U.S. Attorneys," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(2), pages 379-402.
    10. Anne van Aaken & Lars P. Feld & Stefan Voigt, 2008. "Power over Prosecutors Corrupts Politicians: Cross Country Evidence Using a New Indicator," MAGKS Papers on Economics 200801, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
    11. Nuno Garoupa & Frank H Stephen, 2008. "Why plea-bargaining fails to achieve results in so many criminal justice systems: A new framework for assessment," Working Papers 2008-02, Instituto Madrileño de Estudios Avanzados (IMDEA) Ciencias Sociales.
    12. Boylan, Richard T, 2004. "Salaries, Turnover, and Performance in the Federal Criminal Justice System," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 47(1), pages 75-92, April.
    13. Boylan, Richard T & Long, Cheryl X, 2005. "Salaries, Plea Rates, and the Career Objectives of Federal Prosecutors," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(2), pages 627-651, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Eric Langlais & Marie Obidzinski, 2013. "Elected vs appointed public law enforcers," Working Papers 2013-06, CRESE.
    2. repec:kap:regeco:v:52:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11149-017-9341-y is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Timo Goeschl & Ole Jürgens, 2014. "Criminalizing environmental offences: when the prosecutor’s helping hand hurts," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 37(2), pages 199-219, April.
    4. Éric Langlais & Marie Obidzinski, 2015. "The Structure of Fines in the Light of Political Competition," Revue d'économie politique, Dalloz, vol. 125(5), pages 717-729.
    5. Éric Langlais, 2010. "Les criminels aiment-ils le risque ?," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 61(2), pages 263-280.
    6. Paolo Polidori & Désirée Teobaldelli, 2012. "Corporate Criminal Liability and Optimal Behavior by Firms.Internal Monitoring Devices versus Managerial Incentives," Working Papers 1216, University of Urbino Carlo Bo, Department of Economics, Society & Politics - Scientific Committee - L. Stefanini & G. Travaglini, revised 2012.

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