Mistake of Federal Criminal Law: A Study of Coalitions and Costly Information

Supreme Court Economic Review, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1997).

Posted: 12 Mar 1997

See all articles by Richard S. Murphy

Richard S. Murphy

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Erin A. O'Hara O'Connor

Florida State University - College of Law; Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research

Abstract

This article analyzes Supreme Court and other federal court cases, to explain the seemingly disparate incorporation of mistake of law excuses into federal criminal statutes. Most of the cases can be explained from an information cost perspective. If an easily separable subset of the regulated population cannot be induced to learn their legal obligations given credibly low prior probabilities and high information costs, they are excused from criminal liability. Moreover, when criminal statutes are vulnerable to constituent protest, courts require that enforcers increase awareness of the law through information subsidies rather than convicting the ignorant. At least with mistake of law, the federal courts most often interpret federal statutes to enhance both the value and durability of legislative bargains.

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Richard S. and O'Hara O'Connor, Erin A., Mistake of Federal Criminal Law: A Study of Coalitions and Costly Information. Supreme Court Economic Review, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1997).. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=10350

Richard S. Murphy (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Erin A. O'Hara O'Connor

Florida State University - College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.fsu.edu/our-faculty/deans/ohara-oconnor

Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research

158 Goya Road
Portola Valley, CA 94028
United States

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