Is Pleading Really a Bargain?

22 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2011

See all articles by David Abrams

David Abrams

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: December 2011


A criminal defendant's decision of whether to accept a plea bargain is one with serious consequences both for his or her immediate and long‐term future. Conventional wisdom suggests that defendants are better served by entering into a plea bargain, to avoid what is known as the “trial penalty.” In this article I present evidence that this notion is likely mistaken. In OLS regressions using data from Cook County state courts, I find that a risk‐neutral defendant seeking to minimize his or her expected sentence would do substantially better by rejecting a plea bargain. I also employ an IV approach to the question and, while the instrument is weak, the results are consistent with the OLS: defendants are better off going to trial.

Suggested Citation

Abrams, David S., Is Pleading Really a Bargain? (December 2011). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 8, pp. 200-221, 2011, Available at SSRN: or

David S. Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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