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Social Analyses of the Behavior of Law and Regulation: Parsing the Processes of Formulation, Application and Interpretation of Legal Rules


The formulation, application and interpretation of criminal law are shaped by social forces that render these outcomes particular to the societies, places and time periods in which they occur. While this proposition is not controversial among legal scholars and can even be argued as intuitive to lay persons, the mechanisms by which these social forces shape criminal law are not fully understood; though we know that social, political, historical and cultural factors are consequential to law, we do not understand the processes that cause these consequences. In this dissertation, I expand our understanding of how human behavior influences legal processes by investigating its effects on criminal law in three different settings. These three standalone studies focus on the actions of actors aggregated to three different units of analysis, demonstrating that law is shaped by both micro-level and macro-level mechanisms. In Chapter 1, I examine rare video data from real-life American criminal jury deliberations through the method of conversation analysis. I argue that lay people use their everyday legal consciousness to make sense of legal instructions, develop endogenous understandings of this law, and render a verdict based on their application to case facts. As such, jurors’ verdict perceptions are rooted in folk legal understandings rather than objective assessments of legal standards. In Chapter 2, I use logit regression models to argue that the adoption of driving-under-the-influence child-endangerment statutes by American state legislatures is decoupled from objective circumstances related to state’s drunk-driving and child-endangerment conditions. Instead, this adoption is reflective of other institutional forces, in particular legislative self-interested actions and bordering states’ adopting behavior. In Chapter 3, I systematically examine documents produced as part of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention’s Working Group, which evaluates countries’ compliance with this multilateral agreement. I argue that countries’ “legal learning” of agreement principles is a multi-phase process that involves several diffusion mechanisms and is dependent upon multiple domestic actors. While I find evidence that sovereign governments are able to enact isomorphic statutes embedded in similar legal landscapes, enforcement is disparate because this task is delegated to legal practitioners who are not the targets of diffusion forces.

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