A historical sketch of plea bargaining

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Plea bargaining is one of the most emotional and controversial topics in the field of criminal justice. Not only is it defined and documented poorly, its origins also are much disputed. Pro-plea bargainers like to trace plea bargaining to Cain and Abel's classic struggle. Anti-plea bargainers cite the post-American Civil War era as the beginning point for plea negotiation. The truth lies somewhere in between. This paper investigates primary and secondary sources from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries in an effort to pin down the specific initiation of plea bargaining and its antecedents. This work demonstrates that prejudice has distorted the study of plea bargaining's origin and encourages further research in this area.

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... What range of concessions and outcomes must be encompassed within the definition of a plea bargain? What makes operationalizing plea bargaining so difficult is that there is no agreed upon or consistent definition of what it truly means (Di Luca, 2005;Sanborn, 1986;Wynne & Hartnagel, 1975). As such, the range of ''pleas'' can be circumscribed to charge and count reductions or it may be much broader in scale to include behaviors ranging from sentence recommendations, to treatment/placement recommendations, to outright charge dismissal (Smith, 1986;McCoy, 2005). ...
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This study examines the use of plea bargaining among a sample of waiver-eligible juveniles. Using focal concerns as our theoretical foundation, we examine whether concerns about public safety and blameworthiness help to shape plea bargain decision making. Data from a juvenile court in one South Carolina jurisdiction were analyzed using logistic regression (N = 241). This research finds that several factors influence the plea bargain decision including type of offense, number of victims, age, and race. Additionally, the analysis shows that there are several interactive effects between race, first-time offenders, and presence of an attorney. The theoretical and policy implications of these findings are discussed.
This student-friendly introductory core text describes the criminal justice process in the United States - outlining the decisions, practices, people, and issues involved. It provides a solid introduction to the mechanisms of the criminal justice system, with balanced coverage of the issues presented by each facet of the process, including a thorough review of practices and controversies in law enforcement, the criminal courts, and corrections.
It is clear that plea bargaining has become the primary method for criminal case disposition in the United States. It also is likely that defense attorneys, like other courtroom work group actors, generally benefit from such an expedited system of justice. What is less clear, however, is the degree that they may feel stressed by getting too much of a good thing. This article presents data that suggest that judicially created “no-trial option” environments rank among the highest of potential stressors confronting public defenders. Apart from the strong general effects such environments have on defenders, regression analyses suggest that such environments tend to moderately exacerbate defender-client and defender-prosecutor conflicts as well.
This book is primarily an account of the most familiar and longest lived of English courts during the most critical as well as the most influential period of its history. It describes all aspects of the court's work, personnel, jurisdiction, and constitutional position, throws incidental light on the nature of local administration and government, and examines the thesis that the function of assizes was governmental – as a main channel of communication between central government and provincial authority – as well as being judicial.
For most of the history of the common law, Anglo-American courts did not encourage guilty pleas but actively discouraged them. Plea bargaining emerged as a significant practice only after the American Civil War, and it generally met with strong disapproval on the part of appellate courts. This practice nevertheless became a dominant method of resolving criminal cases at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, and it attracted significant attention and criticism as a result of crime commission studies in the 1920s. In recent years, American criminal courts have become even more dependent on the guilty plea, but the good press that plea bargaining currently enjoys in legal and social science circles is a very recent development. This article explores changes in guilty plea practices and in attitudes toward the guilty plea from the Middle Ages to the present.
This paper, using mostly data drawn from a study of the criminal work of the Superior Court of Alameda County, California, from 1880 on, explores the history of plea bargaining. Plea bargaining, it turns out, was used in Alameda County from at least 1880, though it was by no means as common in the late 19th century as it is today. There is also ample evidence of "implicit plea bargaining," that is, pleading guilty in expectation of a lighter sentence. The data from this study suggest that plea bargaining cannot be explained simply as a reaction to crowded court conditions. It is connected with structural and social changes in criminal justice, in particular, the rise of professional police and prosecutors.
Plea bargaining apparently arose independently in a number of urban criminal courts in the nineteenth century. These simultaneous developments were presumably related to a number of broad structural changes that characterized American criminal justice at the time. Chief among them were the creation of urban police departments for the arrest of criminals and the development of a prison system for punishment or rehabilitation. Other developments included the reduced role of the victim, the relative independence of criminal justice from legal norms, and the corruption and political manipulation of the criminal justice system. The paper explores ways that such developments may have provided the context for the institutionalization of plea bargaining as a method of case disposition.
  • Alschuler A.W.
  • Goebel J.
  • Thayer J.B.