56 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 31, 2017
Most cases in the American legal system — civil and criminal — are resolved by settlement. Although settlements are the norm in both systems, the two systems facilitate settlements in very different ways. The criminal system promotes settlements by empowering prosecutors to make the price of going to trial and risking conviction intolerably high for defendants. This leverage enables prosecutors to force defendants to enter into plea bargains under terms largely dictated by the prosecutor. By contrast, instead of providing one party with disparate leverage, the civil system facilitates settlement through procedure. Some civil procedures directly encourage settlement, such as rules requiring alternative dispute resolution. Other procedures, such as summary judgment, promote settlement indirectly by requiring information exchanges, providing opportunities for neutral arbiters to express their views of the case, and focusing the parties’ attention on the material issues simultaneously. Consequently, the civil system seeks to push only the “right” cases to settle and produces more informed, fair settlements.
This Article argues that the criminal justice system should more closely resemble the civil system in the way that it encourages settlements. It identifies several procedures that should be imported into the criminal system to make settlements less the product of coercion and more the result of informed, voluntary bargaining between the parties. In particular, it contends that the criminal system should heighten pleading standards, take seriously motions to dismiss, adopt more liberal discovery, create motions for summary judgment, and allow judicial involvement in plea negotiation. Adopting these procedures would tend not only to produce more informed and more fair plea bargains, but also to reduce the prosecutor’s leverage in plea negotiations. The Article also suggests preventing prosecutors from exercising their remaining leverage to demand that defendants waive these procedures by adopting some form of fee-shifting, also borrowed from civil practice.
Keywords: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Civil Procedure, Courts, Settlements, Plea Bargains
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Gold, Russell M. and Hessick, Carissa Byrne and Hessick, F. Andrew, Civilizing Criminal Settlements (March 31, 2017). Boston University Law Review, 2017; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2944152