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The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics

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Judicial Torture as a Screening Device

Kong-Pin Chen
  • Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica, No. 128, Academia Road, Nangang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan
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/ Tsung-Sheng Tsai
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  • Department of Economics, National Taiwan University, No. 1, Sec. 4, Roosevelt Road, Taipei 10617, Taiwan
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Published Online: 2015-02-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejte-2014-0023


Judicial torture to extract information or to elicit a confession was a common practice in pre-modern societies, both in the east and the west. This paper proposes a positive theory for judicial torture. It is shown that torture reflects the magistrate’s attempt to balance type I and type II errors in the decision-making, by forcing the guilty to confess with a higher probability than the innocent, and thereby decreases the type I error at the cost of the type II error. Moreover, there is a non-monotonic relationship between the superiority of torture and the informativeness of investigation: when investigation is relatively uninformative, an improvement in technology used in the investigation actually lends an advantage to torture so that torture is even more attractive to the magistrates; however, when technological progress reaches a certain threshold, the advantage of torture is weakened, so that a judicial system based on torture becomes inferior to one based on evidence. This result can explain the historical development of the judicial system.

Keywords: torture; type I and type II errors; evidence


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-02-26

Published in Print: 2015-07-01

Citation Information: The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, Volume 15, Issue 2, Pages 277–312, ISSN (Online) 1935-1704, ISSN (Print) 2194-6124, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejte-2014-0023.

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