Prosecutorial Retention: Signaling by Trial


  • Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom (email: Bryan C. McCannon, Department of Finance, Saint Bonaventure University, 3261 West State Road, Saint Bonaventure, NY 14778, United States (email:

  • We thank Ralph Bailey, Kalyan Chatterjee, Valentina Dimitrova-Grajzl, Jayasri Dutta, John Fender, Rosa Ferrer, Louis Kaplow, Claudio Mezzetti, Colin Rowat, Ron Wright, participants of the 2010 American Law and Economics Association meetings, the 2010 Southern Economic Association meetings, and the Economic Theory, Political Economy, and Economic Policy groups at the University of Birmingham for valuable comments.


We examine how retention motives affect prosecutor behavior under different evaluation criteria. In particular, we analyze how prosecutors of differing capabilities respond in choosing which cases to take to trial and which to plea bargain. We show how different criteria distort the mix of cases chosen for trial and that the direction of the distortion depends crucially on the evaluation tool used. Optimal evaluation metrics are derived that combine multiple signals of performance and are shown to achieve the first-best outcome.