University of Pretrial Library

In the Shadows: A Review of the Research on Plea Bargaining - Vera 2020 

19 days ago

From the report: 

Plea bargaining is more a part of the American justice system than the formal trial and, in fact, makes up the vast majority of criminal justice transactions today. Only 2 percent of federal criminal cases—and a similar number of state cases—are brought to trial. More than 90 percent of convictions, at both federal and state levels, are the result of guilty pleas. Plea bargaining is so fundamental to the system that even in 1970, Chief Justice Warren Burger of the U.S. Supreme Court estimated that a 10 percent reduction in guilty pleas would require doubling the amount of judicial capacity in the system. Scholars in recent years have suggested that the criminal legal system could be brought to a halt by a mass refusal to plead guilty.

And yet little is known about plea bargaining. Pleas are offered and retracted at the unfettered discretion of prosecutors. Bargains themselves are undocumented and largely unchallenged, save for a few formal questions meant to establish that the plea is “voluntary, intelligent, and knowing.” To understand plea bargaining, then, we must depend on a small but growing body of research. Through interviews, data gathered by courts, and other means, scholars are attempting to understand the factors that influence plea bargaining as well as whether a plea bargain is a “bargain” at all.

This entry contains the report and fact sheet.

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