Report Finds Link Between Weaker Due Process and Higher Homicide Rates

CU authors say study supports fair judicial treatment and community policing as effective in fighting crime

When a nation’s citizens have faith in their justice system, that nation tends to see less violent crime, accord-ing to a new study out of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The connection between due pro-cess and violent crime rates would appear to explain why more democratic countries don’t necessarily see lower murder rates than authoritarian regimes. But another takeaway for the legal community might be that a fair justice system is a deterrent to crime in and of itself, according to Erin Huebert and David Brown, the authors of “Due Process and Homicide: A Cross-National Analysis.”

In the article published this month in Political Research Quarterly, Huebert and Brown argue that greater due process can decrease homicide rates because it encourages citizens to al-low for the judicial system to resolve disputes. Having faith in their criminal justice system also makes citizens more likely to cooperate in investigations, therefore making prosecution more effective and deterring future crime, the authors also said.

Huebert said she hopes the study sparks “further conversation about how the police in society interact” with the public — that law enforcement needs to trust the citizens and vice versa as a means of controlling crime. While the report doesn’t address U.S.state policies, it supports the idea that community policing and other law enforcement methods that emphasize cooperation from the public are effective means of fighting crime, she said.

“There’s a lot [in the report] about legitimacy and fairness and how that elicits citizen cooperation,” Huebert said.

In examining 89 countries, the study compared murder data from2009 to 2014 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime with each country’s due process score based on a survey. The U.S. had the third worst homicide rate among 29 developed countries in that period while ranking 25th overall in due process rating.

The authors found there was no correlation between authoritarian-ism and homicide rate, which would explain why crime is especially low in a repressive regime like Singapore and high in more-democratic Nigeria. But the authors also considered other factors, such each country’s population of young males, income inequality, police corruption and GDP. Notably, the authors found little if any correlation between homicide rate and whether the country allowed the death penalty.

Previous political science research has determined that measuring violent crime rates across the spectrum of political regimes creates a bell curve.

The most thoroughly authoritarian regimes on one end of the spectrum and democratic regimes on the other see the lowest homicide rates, while the rates are highest for the “hybrid” societies in between. There is a trend in countries like Brazil of seeing more crime even as they take steps toward gender equality and other social re-form. It’s been theorized before that the rule of law is the missing factor that accounts for that difference in crime rates.

“What seems to have been the casein prior literature is … countries that have better rule of law not surprisingly have lower homicide rates, but that’s such a broad concept,” Huebert said.The question, she noted, is what does it mean to have better rule of law?

For the study, the authors used the World Justice Project’s definition of due process, which “refers to the legal requirement that a state must respect the legal rights of all its citizens.”

These include:

•the presumption of innocence and the opportunity to submit and challenge evidence before public proceedings;

•freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and abusive treatment; and

•access to legal counsel and translators.

The report used a survey of legal experts and the general population in each country to evaluate its due process according to the WPJ’s variables. Countries that scored high on due process included Finland, Norway, Singapore, Czech Republic and South Korea.The low scorers included Venezuela, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

Huebert said that while it’s not surprising that democracies can have strong due process and control crime, it appears authoritarian regimes can as well. A populace might be more likely to deem its judicial system as fair if its country is more prosperous, like for example the United Arab Emirates, which scored high in due process and rated severely authoritarian. Huebert noted that it wasn’t third-party evaluators who scored each country on due process, but the country’s own people.

“It’s important to note that due process is about whether people perceive there to be due process or not,”Huebert said. “Their perceptions of what due process is might be very different from mine.”

The study offers counter points to the idea that greater due process means less violent crime. In a society with greater due process, there’s a greater likelihood that criminals go free for lack of evidence, allowing them the chance to commit more crimes. Another is that it doesn’t ac-count for crimes that are commit-ted “in the heat of the moment” and where a person’s awareness of their criminal justice system’s legitimacy doesn’t factor into their decision to commit the crime.

“How states fight crime influences crime itself,” the report said, yet the authors admitted that the reverse could be true: the data didn’t definitively point to which factor was causal.Zeroing in on why the link exists be-tween murder rate and due process is perhaps the next avenue for research.

“We’ve found an association, we certainly theorized and have a story for why that occurs, but that’s what needs to be tested next,” Huebert said.

— Doug Chartier

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