What Exactly Is the Bargain? The Sensitivity of Plea Discount Estimates

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    10 Scopus citations


    Defendants who plead guilty receive less harsh sentences than those convicted at trial. Theories suggest that the magnitude of the plea discount reflects local courtroom norms, and also guides the behavior of defendants. The testing of theories on plea bargaining relies on credible estimates of the size of the plea discount. This study found that plea discount estimates were sensitive to the dependent variable used. The data used included the full sample of felony defendants in New York State who pled guilty, in which nearly half were not incarcerated. When a severity score that encompassed the severity of probation was used instead of the length of incarceration, the plea discount estimate decreased by 26 percentage points for the full sample. This pattern was found in all subsamples as well.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)152-173
    Number of pages22
    JournalJustice Quarterly
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 2022


    • Plea bargaining
    • alternative sanctions
    • counterfactual
    • severity scale

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
    • Law


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