Abstract for: Judicial Process Dynamics

Becker (1968) posits the notion that criminals respond, like any other rational agent, to the benefits and costs of their activities. From this notion follows the deterrence hypothesis, the idea that judicial policies can help reduce crime through an increase in the expected costs of illegal activities. Yet, despite implementing the suggestions implied by such models, more and more countries undergo a large escalation of criminal activities. We explore this issue using a longitudinal data set of relevant judicial figures for one country. The data are used to calibrate a System Dynamics model. We find that, contrary to what would be ordinarily expected, criminals tend to be punished not exclusively on the basis of their behavior, but in terms of other institutional variables. Our data show that judges and prosecutors are prone to dismiss cases when the backlog to be processed exceeds a threshold, in a manner that much corresponds to the archetype "Shifting the Burden To." The effect of judges’ decision rules which results in potential criminals who are acquitted without apparent reason is that of creating incentives for criminals and others to engage in criminal activities, thus causing crime rates, and the backlog of cases, to increase even further.