The Prisoners’ (Plea Bargain) Dilemma
4 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2010
Date Written: April 6, 2010
Prosecutors routinely use plea bargaining to secure convictions without having to take defendants to trial. This is of great benefit to prosecutors, who have only a small fraction of the resources necessary to prosecute those cases. This raises a question: why do defendants acquiesce and voluntarily plead guilty, often accepting harsh sentences? Had defendants refused to settle, many of them would not have been charged or would have escaped with lenient sanctions. This article argues that such collective stonewalling requires coordination among defendants, which is difficult if not impossible to attain. Moreover, prosecutors, by strategically timing and targeting their offers, can create conflicts of interest among defendants, frustrating any attempt at coordination. This realization suggests that, despite the common view to the contrary, the institution of plea bargains does not improve the well-being of defendants.
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