Does the Appeals Process Reduce the Occurrence of Legal Errors?
This paper challenges the commonly held belief that the appeals process reduces the occurrence of legal errors. We show that, although the right to file an appeal or request adjudication offers an opportunity to correct mistakes made at trial, the final impact of the appeals process on the accuracy of judicial decisions is not always desirable because of its effects on the trial court decision-maker’s effort and on deterrence. In particular, we find that if (i) the trial court decision-maker is more concerned with legal errors than with her reputation, (ii) few potential offenders attribute high benefits to committing harmful acts and (iii) the additional effort exerted by the decision-maker has a stronger impact on wrongful acquittals than on wrongful convictions, then the implementation of an appeals process may spur a decision-maker to reduce her effort and may thus be detrimental to the quality of judicial output.
Keywords: appeals; legal errors; crime deterrence