Sharkfests and Databases: Crowdsourcing Plea Bargains
6 Texas A&M Law Review 653 (Forthcoming 2019)
19 Pages Posted: 22 May 2019 Last revised: 2 Aug 2019
Date Written: May 20, 2019
The stock image of a plea negotiation in a criminal case depicts two lawyers in frayed business suits, meeting one-on-one in a dim corner of a courtroom lobby. The defendant is somewhere nearby, ready to receive information about the prosecutor’s offer and to discuss counteroffers with his attorney and perhaps with his family. The victim or arresting officer may be available by phone, although neither has the power to veto a deal the prosecutor otherwise thinks is reasonable. In this depiction of plea bargaining, the defense attorney and the defendant form one unit, allied against another unit—comprised of the prosecutor, victim, and police officer—while remaining independent of other defense units in terms of information, interests, and goals. Each defendant’s case requires and receives individualized attention, and each case is bargained on its own terms.
In this Essay, we dive deeper into this final dimension to discuss the influence of professional networks on plea negotiations. In particular, we examine the effects of crowdsourcing tactics in the negotiation setting. Could the effects of the group negotiation setting be reproduced, institutionalized, and furthered by the creation of a database about plea negotiations and case outcomes? The individual attorneys who negotiate guilty pleas could likewise benefit from access to data beyond their individual caseloads. Crowdsourced plea-bargaining data can help attorneys to connect the dots between cases and escape the illusion that they negotiate alone.
Keywords: Plea Bargains, Sharkfest, Crowdsourcing, Defense Lawyers, Prosecutors
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