Plea Bargaining and Overcriminalization

August 30th, 2011

Interesting article in JLEP (at George Mason!)

In discussing imperfections in the adversarial system, Professor Ribstein notes in his article entitled Agents Prosecuting Agents, that “prosecutors can avoid the need to test their theories at trial by using significant leverage to virtually force even innocent, or at least questionably guilty, defendants to plead guilty.” If this is true, then there is an enormous problem with plea bargaining, particularly given that over 95% of defendants in the federal criminal justice system succumb to the power of bargained justice. As such, this piece provides a detailed analysis of modern-day plea bargaining and its role in spurring the rise of overcriminalization. In fact, this article argues that a symbiotic relationship exists between plea bargaining and overcriminalization because these legal phenomena do not merely occupy the same space in our justice system, but also rely on each other for their very existence.

From the article:

As these hypothetical considerations demonstrate, plea bargaining and overcriminalization perpetuate each other, as plea bargaining shields over-criminalization from scrutiny and overcriminalization creates the incentives that make plea bargaining so pervasive.

Makes sense.