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From Legal Transplants to Legal Translations: The Globalization of Plea Bargaining and the Americanization Thesis in Criminal Procedure


Maximo Langer


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2004

Abstract:     
This article analyzes the Americanization thesis in criminal procedure. According to the strong version of this thesis, the U.S. legal system has become the most influential system in the world and, as a consequence, a substantial number of legal systems may gradually come to resemble or mimic the American one and thus become Americanized. This article cautions against the strong version of the Americanization thesis through an examination of the introduction of American-style plea bargaining in four civil law countries - Argentina, France, Germany and Italy. It shows that even if each of these countries has introduced a form of plea bargaining, there are two main series of reasons that explain why these jurisdictions will probably not be Americanized. First, there are important features of civil law countries' inquisitorial system that may neutralize the Americanization effect of the imported practice. Second, these four civil law jurisdictions have introduced plea bargains that present differences - even substantial differences - not only from the American model but also among themselves. As a consequence of these differences between the Argentine, French, German and Italian plea bargains, the article shows that a paradoxical consequence of the American influence on civil law jurisdictions may be the production of fragmentation and divergence, rather than the Americanization of criminal procedures of the civil law tradition.

In order to demonstrate these points, this article redesigns two conceptual frameworks. First, it reconceptualizes the adversarial and inquisitorial systems as theoretical categories. The article shows that these systems should be conceived not only as two different techniques to handle criminal cases, but also as two different procedural cultures and as two different ways to distribute powers and responsibilities between the main actors and institutions of the criminal justice system. Second, the article also challenges the framework of the legal transplant as a way to think of the circulation of legal ideas and institutions between legal systems. It shows that the metaphor of the legal transplant is too rigid to account for the transformations that legal ideas and institutions undergo when they are moved into new legal systems.

Instead, the article proposes the metaphor of the legal translation as an alternative heuristic device when analyzing the transfer of legal ideas and institutions between legal systems. The adversarial and inquisitorial systems, understood as two different procedural cultures, can be understood as two different systems of productions of meaning. Thus, the transfer of legal institutions from one system to the other can be understood as translations from one system of meaning to the other.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 65

Keywords: Criminal Procedure, Plea Bargaining, Legal Transplants, Judicial Reform, Adversarial system, Inquisitorial system, Americanization, Law & Culture

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Date posted: April 20, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Langer, Maximo, From Legal Transplants to Legal Translations: The Globalization of Plea Bargaining and the Americanization Thesis in Criminal Procedure. Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=707261

Contact Information

Maximo Langer (Contact Author)
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
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