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Optimal Multistage Adjudication


  • Louis Kaplow


In many settings, there are preliminary or interim decision points at which legal cases may be terminated: e.g., motions to dismiss and for summary judgment in U.S. civil litigation, grand jury decisions in criminal cases, and agencies’ screening and other exercises of discretion in pursuing investigations. This article analyzes how the decision whether to continue versus terminate should optimally be made when (A) proceeding to the next stage generates further information but at a cost to both the defendant and the government and (B) the prospect of going forward, and ultimately imposing sanctions, deters harmful acts and also chills desirable behavior. This subject involves a mechanism design analogue to the standard value of information problem, one that proves to be qualitatively different and notably more complex. Numerous factors enter into the optimal decision rule – some expected, some subtle, and some counterintuitive. The optimal rule for initial or intermediate stages is also qualitatively different from that for assigning liability at the final stage of adjudication.

Suggested Citation

  • Louis Kaplow, 2017. "Optimal Multistage Adjudication," NBER Working Papers 23364, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23364
    Note: LE

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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. Hay, Bruce L & Spier, Kathryn E, 1997. "Burdens of Proof in Civil Litigation: An Economic Perspective," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 413-431, June.
    3. Henrik Lando, 2002. "When is the Preponderance of the Evidence Standard Optimal?," The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance - Issues and Practice, Palgrave Macmillan;The Geneva Association, vol. 27(4), pages 602-608, October.
    4. Shavell, Steven, 1991. "Specific versus General Enforcement of Law," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 1088-1108, October.
    5. Paul R. Milgrom, 1981. "Good News and Bad News: Representation Theorems and Applications," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 12(2), pages 380-391, Autumn.
    6. Daniel L. Rubinfeld & David E.M. Sappington, 1987. "Efficient Awards and Standards of Proof in Judicial Proceedings," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 18(2), pages 308-315, Summer.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K41 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Litigation Process
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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