How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts: Evidence from Two Natural Experiments
- American Economic Journal: Economic Policy (Forthcoming)
This paper studies the effect of punishment severity on jury decision-making using archival data from London’s Old Bailey Criminal Court from 1772 to 1871. We exploit two natural experiments in English history, resulting in sharp decreases in punishment severity: the offense-specific abolition of capital punishment and the temporary halt of penal transportation during the American Revolution. Using difference-in-differences to study the former and a pre-post design for the latter, we find a large, significant and permanent impact on jury behavior: juries are more likely to convict overall and across crime categories. Moreover, the effect size differs with defendants’ gender.
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