Using Appellate Decisions to Evaluate the Impact of Judicial Elections
45 Pages Posted: 25 May 2017
Date Written: May 17, 2017
We investigate judicial election's impact on criminal case handling. Data from appeals of felony convictions in New York state are used to measure the accuracy of lower court outcomes. We also account for judicial election pressures and career paths. A theoretical model is developed where to guide the empirical analysis judges face a trade-off between exerting time and effort in criminal and civil cases. We show that during a re-election campaign, when the importance of good decision making in both types of cases is heightened, if the civil case outcomes are sufficiently more important, then error rates in criminal cases can increase. This effect is reversed for those who have a greater intrinsic interest in criminal justice. Results from the empirical analysis conform to the hypotheses derived from the theoretical model. Convictions that occur during the judge's re-election campaign are less likely to be upheld if appealed. The effect is concentrated in those who did not previously work in a prosecutor's office. In fact, judges who are former prosecutors experience higher affirmation rates with an additional escalation in success when up for re-election. We also differentiate judges who handle more civil cases and show that re-election distortions are greater. Finally, we also consider those who receive greater campaign support from special interest groups. Those who receive financial support have reduced accuracy. These additional results are consistent with the theory that it is the trade-off between criminal and civil cases that is driving decision making. Our results suggest that the criminal justice system is impacted by the interaction between a judge's characteristics and re-election incentives.
Keywords: appeal, career, criminal conviction, election, judge, prosecutor
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