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June 14, 2011

"Evidence Disclosure and Severity of Punishments"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by economist Evsen Turkay, which is forthcoming in the American Economic Journal.  Here is the abstract:

The relationship between legal offenses and punishment is well studied by scholars of sociology, economics and law.  Economists contend that punishment is a cost of committing an offense, hence an increase in the severity of punishments should decrease incentives to commit legal offenses.  And the efficiency of legal punishments are studied generally from this perspective: giving efficient incentives to commit legal offense. This paper studies the relationship between punishment and evidence disclosure in a game theoretical model.  A defendant is trying to persuade a judge by presenting evidence to take a favorable legal action rather than less favorable ones on his case.

I show that the equilibrium disclosure of the defendant is not affected by a change in the scale of legal actions when there is no uncertainty on how the judge evaluates evidence. With uncertainty, however, the defendant can be induced to disclose more information by decreasing the severity ratio of the most unfavorable legal action to the most favorable one.  This shows that in the more realistic case of uncertainty the severity of punishments has an effect on evidence disclosure and efficiency of punishment schedule should be analyzed by internalizing its effect on evidence disclosure as well.

June 14, 2011 at 07:55 AM | Permalink


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A more interesting study more directly related to economics would be media coverage. Take the Casey Anthony case for example. Nancy Grace fans are convinced of her guilt despite the defense not putting on any of its case yet, and though there was an effort to empanel an impartial jury, there is no guarantee of that. Even if there is an impartial jury impaneled, respect for the law suffers immeasurably when respect for due process is slighted for media profit. The result of this disrespect for the law risks future defendant's trials. See for example the comments that will compare an innocent verdict with the OJ trial. Indeed, the media, including FoxNews, strongly suggests the only possible justice for Caylee is a first degree murder conviction. The logical conclusion is that justice can only mean a guilty verdict.

So a study that compares InSession and HLN news coverage with the actual stream of the trial when the jury was present, and a corresponding legal discussion to explain the differences, would go further in terms of economics vs due process. For the sake of respect for the law and fair future trials this study would be vital to the spirit of our Constitution.

Posted by: George | Jun 14, 2011 1:10:07 PM

"Economists contend that punishment is a cost of committing an offense, hence an increase in the severity of punishments should decrease incentives to commit legal offenses."

Economists contend this only by ignoring other basic economic tenets - e.g., the "free rider" problem where most offenses (e.g., most drugs ingested, most burglaries, even 30-40% of murders) are never subject to punishment, thus reducing supposed incentives against criminality. This paper addresses one such problem with a market analysis of criminal sentencing (the lack of information among actors), but there are quite a few others still unaddressed that make a free-market economic portrayal of sentencing an extremely facile (if common) analysis that no more reflects the actual "market" for criminal activity than when competition-based "market" theories are applied to monopolies or oligarchies. Economists use this analysis because when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But the result is the equivalent of hammering a wood screw: Whatever you're trying to affix that way won't hold for very long.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 14, 2011 2:10:58 PM

Whoops, excuse the typo: Oligopolies, not oligarchies! My bad. Been too long since my days as an economics major.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 14, 2011 4:54:28 PM

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