Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Legally Irrelevant Factors in Judicial Decision-making: Battle Deaths and the Imposition of the Death Penalty in Nazi Germany

Geerling, Wayne and Magee, Gary and Raschky, Paul and Smyth, Russell (2017): Legally Irrelevant Factors in Judicial Decision-making: Battle Deaths and the Imposition of the Death Penalty in Nazi Germany.

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Abstract

We study the effect of legally irrelevant events on the sentencing outcomes of around 2,500 individual defendants, heard before the People's Court in Nazi Germany. Our analysis exploits exogeneous variation in battle deaths and estimates their effect on the likelihood of receiving the death penalty. According to our results, higher German fatalities on the battlefield systematically increased the chances of receiving the death penalty. We show that decisions by experienced judges were less affected by battle deaths, while judges who were more ideologically committed to the regime were more likely to impose the death penalty in response to hearing news of higher German fatalities. Our results are not driven by particular types of offenses or defendants, time periods, or changes in arrest patterns and are robust to the use of major bombing raids of German cities instead of battle deaths. We also find some evidence that victories of the German national soccer team decreased the chances of capital punishment.

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