Deadly Dilemmas

31 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2008 Last revised: 30 Sep 2017


The implications of errors and error rates are examined in this paper. It is demonstrated that the reliance on comparing the number of false acquittals to false convictions at trial (the Blackstone Ratio) as an estimate of how well a criminal justice system is operating is ill-advised in that generates very peculiar results (including at times no results at all), and can lead to morally perverse results. Other estimates of errors at trial (such as comparing the number of false convictions to total convictions) likewise lead to curious results. Focusing on such ratios neglects that social welfare depends on the total outcome of the trial process (false and true acquittals and convictions) and on the relationship between such outcomes, pleas, and crime rates. Some modest suggestions are made concerning ways in which these relationships may be optimized.

Suggested Citation

Allen, Ronald Jay and Laudan, Larry, Deadly Dilemmas. U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 141, Available at SSRN: or

Ronald Jay Allen (Contact Author)

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8372 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

Larry Laudan

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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