Given the pressing societal need to punish criminal behavior and the solemn nature of depriving people of their liberty and even life, one would expect that the accuracy of these fateful determinations would be the paramount goal of the criminal justice process. This article critically examines the system’s low prioritization of the accuracy of the verdicts it produces, and focuses on four key factors that hinder the attainment of accuracy: problems with the reliability of the evidence produced by police investigations, the opacity of criminal investigations, the intensity of the adversarial process, and the muddled understanding of the system’s goals.
Special attention is paid to the fourth factor which can be deemed responsible for the relegation of accuracy in favor of competing interests and constraints that are borne primarily by bureaucratic considerations and system defensiveness. In this vein, the Article borrows from Organizational Science literature, which offers unique insights into the operation of large systems. This literature illuminates the complex relationship between an organization’s overall goals and the local goals that drive the behavior of its many agents. In particular, the construct of “goal displacement” can help explain how legal actors come to hold role conceptions that are far removed from the goal of achieving accurate verdicts.
The article offers a set of recommendations to combat the four factors that hinder the attainment of accuracy. Special attention is paid to systemic reforms that could bring the criminal justice system’s performance closer to its avowed goals.
Criminal Law | Evidence | Law | Organizations Law
Date of this Version
Dan Simon, "Symposium: Criminal Law at the Crossroads: Turn to Accuracy" (July 2014). University of Southern California Legal Studies Working Paper Series. Working Paper 124.