Judicial Elections and Criminal Case Outcomes

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We investigate judicial elections’ impact on criminal case handling. We argue that judges face a trade-off between criminal and civil cases when exerting time and effort. During reelection, when the importance of good decision-making is heightened, if civil cases are sufficiently more important, then error rates in criminal cases increase. This effect is reversed for those who have a greater intrinsic motivation or handle only criminal cases. We use appeals of felony convictions in New York to measure lower courts’ accuracy. Convictions that occur during the judge’s reelection campaign are less likely to be upheld if appealed so long as he or she did not previously work in a prosecutor’s office. Judges who are former prosecutors experience higher affirmation rates that escalate when up for reelection. Also, reelection distortions are greater for those who handle both types of cases. Finally, judges who receive external campaign financial support have reduced accuracy.

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