Effects of Judicial Prejudgment on Conviction

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.1, 2013


Effects of Judicial Prejudgment on Conviction



Bai Jianjun


The way how we perceive the rate of acquittal reflects the internal tensions between the combat against crimes and the protection of human rights. Based on a sample of 320,000 criminal verdicts, this study makes a quantitative comparison between guilty verdicts and not-guilty verdicts, and finds that the judicial decisions over guiltiness or innocence are not solely dependent on whether the facts of a case meet the conditions for substantive conviction. Rather, they are also related with some judicial pre-judgment in the process of criminal prosecution. Judicial pre-judgment may arise from four kinds of contextual information: information asymmetry, substantive hints, prosecution-defense mismatch, as well as the initial selection of cases by the prosecution, all of which tend to make the judiciary create psychological preparations or expectations for the final results of the case. Judicial pre-judgment includes both not-guilty pre-judgment and guilty pre-judgment. Due to the existence of judicial pre-judgment, some guilty verdicts are a synthetic result of substantive conviction conditions and a pre-judgment of guilt. Therefore, it is impossible to achieve a zero rate of acquittals. As judicial pre-judgment is found in the blind spot of the dualistic analytical framework of formal rationality and substantive rationality, we can only achieve an equal protection of citizens’ criminal legal rights by consciously inhibiting the effects of judicial pre-judgment in the process of pursuing formal rationality.