Compelled to Render Oneself Evil: American Plea-Bargaining from a Jewish Law Perspective

23 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2012

Date Written: February 29, 2012


This article proposes a solution to the United States criminal justice system’s overuse of plea-bargaining to achieve high conviction rates at the expense of individual liberties. It provides a fresh look at the issue from the framework of Jewish law, a legal system that has been cited by the Supreme Court numerous times for its ancient wisdom. The article first outlines the sources and interpretations of Jewish law’s ban on confessions, and applies this law to plea-bargains. Second, it discusses the history and legal implications of plea-bargaining in the United States. Third, it proposes that the United States look to Jewish law’s exception to the ban on confessions for times of necessity, such as situations where there is widespread disregard for the law. Jewish law dictates that such exceptions be only temporary, which can be interpreted to reflect an understanding that such necessity indicates a deeper problem. Jewish law thus directs society to use the temporary exception as an opportunity to uncover the deeper problem and solve it, whereupon the safeguards must be reinstated. The article suggests that the War on Drugs may be the deeper problem that has led to widespread disregard of the law and has thus necessitated over-reliance on plea bargains. Finally, the article offers a potential solution to Jewish defendants subject to criminal proceedings in the United States.

Suggested Citation

Softness, Melissa, Compelled to Render Oneself Evil: American Plea-Bargaining from a Jewish Law Perspective (February 29, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Melissa Softness (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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