The effect of the election of prosecutors on criminal trials

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Abstract

We examine whether elections of public prosecutors influence the mix of cases taken to trial versus plea bargained. A theoretical model is constructed wherein voters use outcomes of the criminal justice system as a signal of prosecutors’ quality, leading to a distortion in the mix of cases taken to trial. Using data from North Carolina we test whether reelection pressures lead to (a) an increase in the number and proportion of convictions from jury trials and (b) a decrease in the average sanction obtained in both jury trials and pleas. Our empirical findings are consistent with our theoretical predictions.