Justice Begins Before Trial: How to Nudge Inaccurate Pre-Trial Rulings Using Behavioral Law and Economic Theory and Uniform Commercial Laws
44 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2018 Last revised: 7 Aug 2019
Date Written: April 4, 2018
Injustice in criminal cases often takes root before trial begins. Overworked criminal judges must resolve difficult pre-trial evidentiary issues that determine the charges the State will take to trial and the range of sentences the defendant will face. Wrong decisions on these issues often lead to wrongful convictions. But as behavioral law and economic theory suggests, judges who are cognitively busy and receive little feedback on these topics from appellate courts rely upon intuition, rather than deliberative reasoning, to resolve these questions. This leads to inconsistent rulings, which prosecutors exploit to expand the scope of evidentiary exceptions that almost always disfavor defendants. Such intuitive, inconsistent decision-making thereby undermines criminal justice before trial even starts.
In this Article, I argue that criminal judges can rely on an alternative model to decide an especially vexing pre-trial evidentiary issue—the admissibility of a co-conspirator’s hearsay statement at the defendant’s trial. Judges can look to principles in uniform commercial laws to resolve this issue in a more deliberative fashion. Uniform commercial laws predictably, accurately, and simply allocate individual liability for the actions of opaque, profit-driven commercial organizations. Those laws can likewise allocate individual liability amongst members of analogous conspiratorial organizations. Because those laws are also reducible to decision trees and checklists that encourage deliberative reasoning while still generating relatively fast decisions, judges can rely upon them to produce fair results without bringing their dockets to a standstill.
I provide several examples in which illicit organizations are sufficiently analogous to commercial organizations for judges to apply uniform commercial laws when resolving co-conspirator hearsay issues. When judges do so, they will check the growth of anti-defendant evidentiary exceptions. Critically, they will also increase the likelihood of just outcomes in criminal cases once the trial begins.
Keywords: Criminal Law, Evidence, Criminal Procedure, Jurisprudence, Judges, Law & Behavioral Economics
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