Someone will be left out in the cold: Exploring the impact of prosecutors’ turnover on statute-barred crimes

Umberto Nizza (University of Verona)
Angelo Zago (University of Verona )


This article delves into the implications of turnover among prosecutors in cases where crimes reach the maximum time limit allowed by statutes of limitation before prosecution can commence. Statutes of limitations in criminal law are intended to prevent judicial errors and minimize transaction costs by setting a finite timeframe for prosecuting individuals. However, when criminal cases are dismissed due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, it signifies a failure on the part of the justice system to address criminal activities and a decision by the state to forgo prosecuting offenses that, even if relatively minor, still raise social concerns such as corruption, sexual violence, or fraud. Using a two stage least squared approach and drawing from data spanning the years 2013 to 2021 in Italian courts, our research reveals that prosecutor turnover is closely tied to their individual caseloads, specifically the number of criminal cases involving known offenders they are responsible for handling. This turnover, in turn, impacts the accountability of criminals and contributes to a higher number of cases becoming time-barred and exiting the judicial system before they can even reach the trial stage. In light of these findings, the article proposes the implementation of measures to prevent investigations from falling under the statute of limitations, enhance the overall efficiency of the judicial system, and systematically address the issue of prosecutor turnover.

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