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Judicial Errors and Crime Deterrence: Theory and Experimental Evidence

  • Matteo Rizzolli


  • Luca Stanca


The standard economic theory of crime deterrence predicts that the conviction of an innocent (type-I error) is as detrimental to deterrence as the acquittal of a guilty individual (type-II error). In this paper, we qualify this result theoretically, showing that in the presence of risk aversion, loss-aversion, or differential sensitivity to procedural fairness, type-I errors can have a larger effect on deterrence than type-II errors. We test these predictions with an experiment where participants make a decision on whether to steal from other individuals, being subject to different probabilities of judicial errors. The results indicate that both types of judicial errors have a large and significant impact on deterrence, but these effects are not symmetric. An increase in the probability of type-I errors has a larger negative impact on deterrence than an equivalent increase in the probability of type-II errors. This asymmetry is largely explained by risk aversion and, to a lesser extent, type-I error aversion.

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Paper provided by University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 170.

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Length: 31 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2009
Date of revision: Aug 2009
Handle: RePEc:mib:wpaper:170
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  1. Ulrich Schmidt & Horst Zank, 2005. "What is Loss Aversion?," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 30(2), pages 157-167, January.
  2. Giovanni Immordino & Michele Polo, 2008. "Judicial Errors, Legal Standards and Innovative Activity," CSEF Working Papers 196, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy, revised 04 Jun 2010.
  3. Uschi Backes-Gellner & Donata Bessey & Kerstin Pull & Simone Tuor, 2008. "What Behavioural Economics Teaches Personnel Economics," Working Papers 0077, University of Zurich, Institute for Strategy and Business Economics (ISU).
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  7. Bjorn Frank & Guenther G. Schulze, 2000. "Deterrence versus Intrinsic Motivation: Experimental Evidence on the Determinants of Corruptibility," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0950, Econometric Society.
  8. Henrik Lando, 2006. "Does Wrongful Conviction Lower Deterrence?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(2), pages 327-337, 06.
  9. Dominique Demougin & Claude Fluet, 2005. "Deterrence versus Judicial Error: A Comparative View of Standards of Proof," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 161(2), pages 193-, June.
  10. Vincy Fon & Hans-Bernd Schäfer, 2007. "State Liability for Wrongful Conviction: Incentive Effects on Crime Levels," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 163(2), pages 269-284, June.
  11. Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2008. "Obligations and Cooperative Behaviour in Public Good Games," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/2k2jnd64aa9, Sciences Po.
  12. Klaus Abbink, 2006. "Laboratory experiments on corruption," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-38, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  13. Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch & Christina Strassmair, 2012. "An Experimental Test of the Deterrence Hypothesis," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(3), pages 447-459, August.
  14. Garoupa, Nuno, 1997. " The Theory of Optimal Law Enforcement," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(3), pages 267-95, September.
  15. Torgler, Benno, 2002. " Speaking to Theorists and Searching for Facts: Tax Morale and Tax Compliance in Experiments," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 16(5), pages 657-83, December.
  16. Michael S. Visser & William T. Harbaugh & Naci Mocan, 2006. "An Experimental Test of Criminal Behavior Among Juveniles and Young Adults," University of Oregon Economics Department Working Papers 2006-11, University of Oregon Economics Department.
  17. Nuno Garoupa & Matteo Rizzolli, 2012. "Wrongful Convictions Do Lower Deterrence," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 168(2), pages 224-231, June.
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