The Ethics of Plea Bargaining

6 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2012 Last revised: 11 Mar 2013

Date Written: December 16, 2012


The Ethics of Plea Bargaining offers a sustained argument for restrained forms of plea bargaining and against the free-wheeling kinds of it that predominate in the United States. Rewards for admitting guilt are distinguished from penalties for exercising the right to trial. The latter appear in numerous guises and are shown to be indefensible. Modest, fixed sentence reductions for defendants who admit their guilt are urged. Deliberate over-charging by prosecutors and charge bargaining, it is maintained, should be discouraged. Claims that large and variable charge and sentence reductions are needed to expand deserved punishment, reward remorseful offenders, encourage cooperation from defendants in implicating others suspected of crimes, enhance the deterrent profile of the criminal justice system, or salvage convictions when the evidence against accused individuals is weak are all shown to lack credibility. The contention that such reductions in punishment are justified because they are freely agreed to by state officials and criminal defendants is likewise shown to be unconvincing, given the ways in and extent to which criminal justice practices ought to be structured by desert or crime reduction norms.

Keywords: plea bargaining, legal punishment, criminal procedure, ethics

Suggested Citation

Lippke, Richard, The Ethics of Plea Bargaining (December 16, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Richard Lippke (Contact Author)

Indiana University ( email )

Department of Criminal Justice
Bloomington, IN
United States
812-856-6049 (Phone)

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