How Do Defendants Choose Their Trial Court? Evidence for a Heuristic Processing Account
Judgment and Decision Making, 8(5), 552-560.
9 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2014
Date Written: September 2013
In jurisdictions with two or more tiers of criminal courts, some defendants can choose the type of trial court to be tried in. This may involve a trade-off between the probability of acquittal/conviction and the estimated severity of sentence if convicted. For instance, in England and Wales, the lower courts have a higher conviction rate but limited sentencing powers, whereas the higher courts have a higher acquittal rate but greater sentencing powers. We examined 255 offenders’ choice of trial court type using a hypothetical scenario where innocence and guilt was manipulated. Participants’ choices were better predicted by a lexicographic than utility maximization model. A greater proportion of “guilty” participants chose the lower court compared to their “innocent” counterparts, and estimated sentence length was more important to the former than latter group. The present findings provide further support for heuristic decision-making in the criminal justice domain, and have implications for legal policy-making.
Keywords: trial, court, choice, subjective expected utility, lexicographic model
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