Criminal Law at the Crossroads: Turn to Accuracy

39 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2014 Last revised: 12 Jul 2014

See all articles by Dan Simon

Dan Simon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Date Written: July 11, 2014


Given the pressing societal need to punish criminal behavior and the solemn nature of depriving people of their liberty and even life, one would expect that the accuracy of these fateful determinations would be the paramount goal of the criminal justice process. This article critically examines the system’s low prioritization of the accuracy of the verdicts it produces, and focuses on four key factors that hinder the attainment of accuracy: problems with the reliability of the evidence produced by police investigations, the opacity of criminal investigations, the intensity of the adversarial process, and the muddled understanding of the system’s goals.

Special attention is paid to the fourth factor which can be deemed responsible for the relegation of accuracy in favor of competing interests and constraints that are borne primarily by bureaucratic considerations and system defensiveness. In this vein, the Article borrows from Organizational Science literature, which offers unique insights into the operation of large systems. This literature illuminates the complex relationship between an organization’s overall goals and the local goals that drive the behavior of its many agents. In particular, the construct of “goal displacement” can help explain how legal actors come to hold role conceptions that are far removed from the goal of achieving accurate verdicts.

The article offers a set of recommendations to combat the four factors that hinder the attainment of accuracy. Special attention is paid to systemic reforms that could bring the criminal justice system’s performance closer to its avowed goals.

Keywords: Criminal Justice System, Organizational Science, Organizational Goals, Evidence, Adversarialism

Suggested Citation

Simon, Dan, Criminal Law at the Crossroads: Turn to Accuracy (July 11, 2014). Southern California Law Review, Vol. 87, 2014, USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 14-26, USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS14-23, Available at SSRN:

Dan Simon (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-0168 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)


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