Does Wrongful Conviction Lower Deterrence?

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Does Wrongful Conviction Lower Deterrence?

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Title: Does Wrongful Conviction Lower Deterrence?
Author: Lando, Henrik
Abstract: Does wrongful conviction lower deterrence and can this explain society’s aversion to sanctioning the innocent? This paper argues that for some of the most important categories of crime such as murder, assault or robbery, the answer to both questions is no. For these categories of crime, a potential offender need not fear wrongful conviction for any particular criminal act he or she chooses not to commit. For example, if a potential offender decides not to murder another person, he or she should not fear being wrongfully convicted of it, since the person will not be dead, and there will therefore be no investigation and no trial. He of she may risk being wrongfully convicted of another crime, but that risk exists independently of his or her own actions. It may be argued that wrongful conviction lowers deterrence in more indirect ways. First, the possibility of being sanctioned for a crime one does not commit may lower the threat of being sanctioned for a crime one commits, if two sanctions are not twice as threatening as one. Second, if wrongful conviction halts further investigations that may lead to the true offender, and third, if a potential offender thinks that if he or she does not take advantage of a crime opportunity, he or she may be wrongly convicted in the event that some other person grasps the same opportunity. However, it will be argued that wrongful conviction may also increase deterrence, and the three indirect effects are in any event unlikely to be quantitatively important in the real world. An implication of the present analysis is that society’s aversion to sanctioning the innocent cannot be rationalized by or reduced to a concern for deterrence.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10398/6803
Date: 2004-10-15

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