Legitimacy and Federal Criminal Enforcement Power

97 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2014 Last revised: 20 Feb 2015

See all articles by Lauren M. Ouziel

Lauren M. Ouziel

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: March 19, 2014


A defining feature of criminal federalism is extreme disparities in case outcomes across state and federal forums. All else being equal, prosecution in the federal forum entails a significantly higher likelihood of conviction, and a higher penalty. But why do such disparities exist? Conventional explanations point to differences among sovereigns’ legal rules, resources and dockets. These understandings, while valid, neglect to account for a less tangible source of federal criminal power: legitimacy. “Legitimacy” refers to the concept, refined through decades of empirical research, that citizens comply with the law, and defer to and cooperate with legal authority, when they perceive both the laws and the authorities to be fair. A legitimacy-based exploration of the federal criminal justice system significantly enriches our understanding of the sources of federal criminal enforcement power. Distilling those sources, moreover, reveals surprising and counterintuitive implications: to emulate the sources of federal legitimacy in local systems, we need more localized criminal justice.

Suggested Citation

Ouziel, Lauren M., Legitimacy and Federal Criminal Enforcement Power (March 19, 2014). Yale Law Journal, Vol. 123, Forthcoming; Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2014-1010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2411594

Lauren M. Ouziel (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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