Citizen oversight and the electoral incentives of criminal prosecutors

Sanford C. Gordon, Gregory A. Huber

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Popular wisdom suggests that only by securing convictions can elected prosecutors cultivate the perception that they are tough on crime. This article consider why voters might use conviction rates to evaluate prosecutors and whether justice is subverted as a consequence. Citizens lack information about individual cases and prosecutor behaviour. We model voters oversight of prosecutors in light of these difficulties. Voters use the promise of reelection given observed outputs to induce prosecutors to reduce uncertainty through investigation and subsequently to punish the guilty and free the innocent. The model demonstrates that an optimal voter strategy is always to reelect prosecutors who obtain convictions. Most importantly, even voters who most fear wrongful convictions should reward success at trial. Voter attitudes and beliefs instead influence rewards for cases concluded out of court, including plea bargains. Finally, we derive sanctions necessary to prevent prosecutors from supressing evidence when doing so is politically tempting.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)334-351
    Number of pages18
    JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - 2002

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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