This dissertation addresses core issues relating to law and democracy in Latin America. The judicial response to continuing high levels of police violence in Latin America is the empirical context used to explore the oft-mentioned but little studied gap between the law on the books and the law in practice in the region. The theoretical chapter presents a model that is applicable to many of the problems usually placed under the “rule of law" rubric, while the empirical chapters contribute new information on one of the key problems faced by these legal systems, the effectiveness and enforcement of civil rights. The dissertation addresses such key themes as equality before the law, access to justice, judicial independence and legal reform.
The dissertation relies partly on an original database documenting the outcome of approximately 500 cases of police violence ending in death in Buenos Aires and Crdoba, Argentina, São Paulo and Salvador, Brazil, and all of Uruguay. The database includes information about the case, the victims, the perpetrators, and all the legal actors involved. This information is used to measure levels of effectiveness and inequality within and across social groups, cities, and countries. The comparison of five cities across three countries, in provincial and federal legal systems, allows controls on a wide variety of social, economic, political and institutional variables.
Beginning with a heuristic model of the process of legal decision-making, and deriving implications for legal effectiveness from this model, the dissertation argues that disparate outcomes across cases are caused primarily by gaps in the supply of information to the legal system, compounded in certain systems by normative failures on the part of key decision-makers. It includes insights into possible institutional arrangements that might produce better results.