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Does the Threat of the Death Penalty Affect Plea Bargaining in Murder Cases? Evidence from New York's 1995 Reinstatement of Capital Punishment

Posted: 29 Feb 2008  

Ilyana Kuziemko

Harvard University - Department of Economics

Date Written: 2006

Abstract

This article investigates whether the death penalty encourages defendants charged with potentially capital crimes to plead guilty in exchange for lesser sentences. I exploit a natural experiment in New York State: the 1995 reinstatement of capital punishment, coupled with the public refusal of some prosecutors to pursue death sentences (N.Y. Penal Law ยง 125.25 [McKinney 1975]). Using individual-level data on all felony arrests in the state between 1985 and 1998, I find the death penalty leads defendants to accept plea bargains with harsher terms, but does not increase defendants' overall propensity to plead guilty. A differences-in-differences analysis of a national cross-section of homicide defendants confirms these results.

Suggested Citation

Kuziemko, Ilyana, Does the Threat of the Death Penalty Affect Plea Bargaining in Murder Cases? Evidence from New York's 1995 Reinstatement of Capital Punishment ( 2006). American Law and Economics Review, Vol. 8, Issue 1, pp. 116-142, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1095568 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aler/ahj005

Ilyana Kuziemko (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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