Decisions to Commit Profitable Crime

Publication Date01 Feb 1993
AuthorJürgen Rüdiger Smettan
subjectMatterAccounting & finance
Decisions to Commit Profitable Crime
Jürgen Rüdiger Smettan
Jürgen Rüdiger Smettan
studied psychology and economics at the
Albert Ludwigs University, Freiburg
Since 1987 he has been a member of
the criminological research group at the
Max Planck Institute for Foreign and
International Criminal Law at Freiburg.
He undertook research concerning
sequestration and confiscation of
criminal profits and completed a
dissertation on psychology at the Max
Planck Institute in 1992.
This paper presents the results of an em-
pirical study conducted at the Max Planck
Institute for Foreign and International Crimi-
nal Law, Freiburg, in
The main
question of the study was 'How does the
potential perpetrator calculate the costs and
benefits of a profitable criminal act?'.1 Deci-
sion theory is used to select a special set of
variables in order to explain criminal enrich-
ment and from this four variables explained
most of the criminal behaviour that is
planned and carried out to yield criminal
profit. Subjective evaluations of profit, risk,
punishment and moral costs explained
80-90 per cent of the willingness to commit
a profitable crime. Data were collected
based on a specially constructed question-
naire using hypothetical decision scenarios.
Criminals and non-criminals answered the
questionnaire. The two groups mainly
fered in their evaluation of the moral costs
and in weighting the profits and punishment
of a criminal offence.
During a study which was planned to
explore the confiscation of criminal
profits,2 two important research consid-
erations were raised. First, how the judi-
cial system handles criminal profits and,
second, which is the focus of this paper,
the criminal's calculation when antici-
pating the profits. How do criminal
profits influence the criminal's decision?
This problem gave rise to a further ques-
tion: what are the differences in the cal-
culation between' criminals and non-
To answer these questions, decision
theory is used in order to find out how
the criminal's decision process works.
Decision theory is mainly used in eco-
nomics to calculate maximising solu-
tions of economic problems.3 According
to economic theory and decision theory,
criminal behaviour occurs when crimi-
nal behaviour is being adhered to more
often than legal behaviour.4
There are some arguments against the
use of decision theory to explain crimi-
nal behaviour, one of which is that deci-
sion theory treats the actor (the decision

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