The People’s Hired Guns? Experimentally Testing the Inclination of Prosecutors to Abuse the Vague Definition of Crimes

34 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2011  

Christoph Engel

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods; University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics; Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

Alicja Katarzyna Pluta

Columbia Business School - Management

Date Written: July 1, 2011

Abstract

Legal realists expect prosecutors to be selfish. If they get the defendant convicted, this helps them advance their careers. If the odds of winning on the main charge are low, prosecutors have a second option. They can exploit the ambiguity of legal doctrine and charge the defendant for vaguely defined crimes, like “conspiracy”. We model the situation as a signalling game and test it experimentally. If we have participants play the naked game, at least a minority plays the game theoretic equilibrium and use the vague rule if a signal indicates that the defendant is guilty. This becomes even slightly more frequent if a misbehaving defendant imposes harm on a third participant. By contrast if we frame the situation as a court case, almost all prosecutors take the signal at face value and knowingly run the risk of loosing in court if the signal was false. Our experimental prosecutors behave like textbook legal idealists, and follow the urge of duty.

Keywords: risk aversion, prosecution, doctrinal ambiguity, vaguely defined crimes, duty, DOSPERT

JEL Classification: D63, C72, K42, C91, D03, K14

Suggested Citation

Engel, Christoph and Pluta, Alicja Katarzyna, The People’s Hired Guns? Experimentally Testing the Inclination of Prosecutors to Abuse the Vague Definition of Crimes (July 1, 2011). MPI Collective Goods Preprint No. 2011/14. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1885425 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1885425

Christoph Engel (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
Germany
+049 228 914160 (Phone)
+049 228 9141655 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.coll.mpg.de/engel.html

University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics

Postfach 2220
D-53012 Bonn
Germany

Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

c/o Prof. Dr. Schneider
Osnabruck, D-49069
Germany

Alicja Katarzyna Pluta

Columbia Business School - Management ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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