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Journal Article

Witness Intimidation

Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi
The Journal of Legal Studies
Vol. 39, No. 2 (June 2010), pp. 399-432
DOI: 10.1086/649032
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/649032
Page Count: 34
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Witness Intimidation
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Abstract

AbstractWitness intimidation involves strategic complexity and two-sided uncertainty: criminals cannot know whether threats will deter witnesses, and witnesses cannot know whether threats will be carried out. We model this interaction and explore how rates of intimidation, testimony, and conviction respond to changes in the value of testimony, relations between the police and the community, and witness protection programs. If the value of testimony rises, criminals face stronger incentives to threaten, but threats are less credible. The increase in threats may be large enough to offset the greater value of testimony, with the paradoxical outcome that fewer criminals are convicted. Counterintuitive results are most likely when witness intimidation is a severe problem: few witnesses testify although prosecutors are competent. When the harm faced by witnesses depends on whether the criminal is convicted, communities can be trapped in equilibria with collective silence: no witness testifies because none expects others to testify.

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