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How Judicial Elections Impact Criminal Cases

Article reporting research on the influence of judicial elections on the criminal justice system, especially with regard to the success of “tough on crime” campaign messaging.

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State courts adjudicate the vast majority of criminal cases. Nearly all felony convictions — 94 percent — occur in state courts, including 99 percent of rape cases and 98 percent of murder cases.1 The arbiters of these cases, state court judges, are mainly elected. Nationwide, 87 percent of state judges face elections, which occur in 39 states. 2 Given the extraordinary power state court judges exercise over the liberty, and even lives, of defendants, it is vital that they remain impartial. But mounting evidence suggests that the dynamics of judicial elections may threaten judges’ ability to serve as impartial arbitrators in criminal cases. Read more...