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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 31, 2012

The Role of Prosecutor's Incentives in Creating Congestion in Criminal Courts

  • Noam Shamir and Julia Shamir
From the journal Review of Law & Economics


While much legal research has examined the problem of court delays and backlogs, the link between the prosecutor’s incentives to press charges and the subsequent effect on congestion in the criminal justice system has remained largely overlooked. To understand the implications of such decisions for court congestion, we model prosecutor incentives using queuing theory. We demonstrate that a benevolent decision-maker weighs the trade-off between the desire to increase the volume of cases reaching the court in order to convict the guilty and the delay costs that are due to the length of court proceedings. Using two prosecutorial incentive schemes that have previously been identified in the literature—the conviction rate and the total number of convictions—we find that a prosecutor who is acting to increase his own utility would deviate from charging the socially-desired number of cases. Following these negative results, we design a mechanism that induces the prosecutor to press charges in the socially-optimal number of cases. Also new in this paper is the methodology of using queuing theory in conjunction with issues of court delay and prosecution incentives. While thus far this tool has been widely applied in other disciplines of economics research, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to utilize this method in issues related to court congestion.

Published Online: 2012-12-31

©2012 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston

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