Stigma Dilution and Over-Criminalization

26 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2014 Last revised: 24 Nov 2016

See all articles by Murat C. Mungan

Murat C. Mungan

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: October 20, 2014


Criminalizing an act that provides weak signals about a person's productivity and character can dilute the stigma attached to having a criminal record. This reduces the deterrence of serious crimes that do provide strong signals regarding the offender's character. Over-criminalization occurs when the costs associated with reduced deterrence due to stigma dilution off-set potential benefits associated with criminalizing the less harmful act. Identifying conditions under which stigma dilution is likely and comparatively costly allows the determination of factors that affect the desirability of (de)criminalizing various acts. These factors are discussed in the context of marijuana possession offenses to illustrate how over-criminalization may reduce social welfare. The normative desirability of various practices in criminal law are also discussed vis-à-vis their impacts on stigma dilution.

Keywords: Stigma, Decriminalization, Over-criminalization, Deterrence, Crime and Punishment, Criminal Records, Expungements, Marijuana Possession.

JEL Classification: K00, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Mungan, Murat C., Stigma Dilution and Over-Criminalization (October 20, 2014). FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 717; 18 American Law and Economics Review 88 (2016); FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 717; FSU College of Law, Law, Business & Economics Paper No. 14-16. Available at SSRN: or

Murat C. Mungan (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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