Resource Constraints and the Criminal Justice System: Evidence from Judicial Vacancies

Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center Discussion Paper No. 820

57 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2015

Date Written: April 1, 2015

Abstract

Ten percent of federal judgeships are currently vacant, yet little is known on the impact of these vacancies on criminal justice outcomes. Using judge deaths and pension eligibility as instruments for judicial vacancies, I find that prosecutors decline more cases during vacancies. Prosecuted defendants are more likely to plead guilty and less likely to be incarcerated, suggesting more favorable plea deals. The incarceration effects are larger among defendants represented by private counsel. These estimates imply that the current rate of vacancies has resulted in 1000 fewer prison inmates annually compared to a fully staffed court system, a 1.6 percent decrease.

Keywords: Criminal law, prosecutors, courts

JEL Classification: D70, H11, K14, K40

Suggested Citation

Yang, Crystal, Resource Constraints and the Criminal Justice System: Evidence from Judicial Vacancies (April 1, 2015). Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center Discussion Paper No. 820. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2594019 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2594019

Crystal Yang (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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