A Public Choice Theory of Criminal Procedure


We provide a more persuasive justification for the pro-defendant bias in Anglo-American criminal procedure than the most commonly forwarded justifications to date. The most commonly forwarded rationale for the pro-defendant bias is that the costs of false convictions – specifically, the sanctioning and deterrence costs associated with the erroneous imposition of criminal sanctions – are greater than the costs of false acquittals. We argue that this rationale provides at best a partial justification for the extent of pro-defendant procedural rules. Under our alternative justification, pro-defendant protections serve primarily as constraints on the costs associated with improper enforcement or rent seeking in the law enforcement process. The theory developed here explains key institutional features of Anglo-American criminal procedure and provides a positive theory of the case law as well. The theory is also corroborated by empirical evidence on corruption from several countries.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law and Economics

Date of this Version

August 2004