Plea Bargaining: Negotiated Justice

  • Thomas J. MiceliEmail author


This chapter introduces another player in the criminal process, the prosecutor, who is instrumental in the determination of actual criminal punishments through the practice of plea bargaining. Under plea bargaining, which is a literal negotiation between prosecutors and defendants over criminal sentences, prosecutors exercise considerable discretion regarding both what charge to bring and what sentence to offer. The vast majority of criminal convictions in the United States are achieved in this way. The chapter reviews economic theories of this practice and emphasizes the trade-off between the resulting savings in trial costs and the risk of wrongful conviction. It concludes by examining how plea bargaining affects the goals of deterrence and corrective justice.


  1. Adelstein, Richard. 1998. Plea Bargaining: A Comparative Approach. In The New Palgrave Dictionary of Law and Economics, ed. P. Newman. New York: Stockton Press.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 2017. The Exchange Order: Property and Liability as an Exchange System. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adelstein, Richard, and Thomas J. Miceli. 2001. Toward a Comparative Economics of Plea Bargaining. European Journal of Law and Economics 11: 47–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baker, Scott, and Claudio Mezzetti. 2001. Prosecutorial Resources, Plea Bargaining, and the Decision to Go to Trial. Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 17: 149–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bebchuk, Lucian. 1984. Litigation and Settlement Under Imperfect Information. RAND Journal of Economics 15: 404–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bjerk, David. 2005. Making the Crime Fit the Penalty: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion Under Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. Journal of Law and Economics 48: 591–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. ———. 2007. Guilt Shall Not Escape or Innocence Suffer? The Limits of Plea Bargaining When Defendant Guilt Is Uncertain. American Law and Economics Review 9: 305–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cooter, Robert, and Daniel Rubinfeld. 1989. An Economic Analysis of Legal Disputes and Their Resolution. Journal of Economic Literature 27: 1067–1097.Google Scholar
  9. Dubber, Markus. 1997. American Plea Bargains, German Lay Judges, and the Crisis of Criminal Procedure. Stanford Law Review 49: 547–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Easterbrook, Frank. 1983. Criminal Procedure as a Market System. The Journal of Legal Studies 12: 289–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Friedman, Lawrence. 2004. Law in America: A Short History. New York: The Modern Library.Google Scholar
  12. Froeb, Luke. 1993. The Adverse Selection of Cases for Trial. International Review of Law and Economics 13: 317–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Garoupa, Nuno. 2012. The Economics of Prosecutors. In Research Handbook on the Economics of Criminal Law, ed. Alon Harel and Keith Hylton. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  14. Gazal-Ayal, Oren, and Limor Riza. 2009. Plea-Bargaining and Prosecution. In Criminal Law and Economics, ed. N. Garoupa. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  15. Grossman, Gene, and Michael Katz. 1983. Plea Bargaining and Social Welfare. American Economic Review 73: 749–757.Google Scholar
  16. Huff, C. Ronald, Ayre Rattner, and Edward Sagarin. 1996. Convicted But Innocent: Wrongful Conviction and Public Policy. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Hylton, Keith, and Vikramaditya Khanna. 2009. Political Economy of Criminal Procedure. In Criminal Law and Economics, ed. N. Garoupa. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  18. Kaplow, Louis. 2011. On the Optimal Burden of Proof. Journal of Political Economy 119: 1102–1140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Katz, Leo. 1996. Ill-Gotten Gains: Evasion, Blackmail, Fraud, and Kindred Puzzles of the Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Landes, William. 1971. An Economic Analysis of the Courts. Journal of Law and Economics 14: 61–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Langbein, John. 1979. Land Without Plea Bargaining: How the Germans Do It. Michigan Law Review 78: 204–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Miceli, Thomas. 1990. Optimal Prosecution of Defendants Whose Guilt Is Uncertain. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 6: 189–201.Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1996. Plea Bargaining and Deterrence: An Institutional Approach. European Journal of Law and Economics 3: 249–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. ———. 2017. The Economic Approach to Law. 3rd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Png, I. 1986. Optimal Subsidies and Damages in the Presence of Legal Error. International Review of Law and Economics 6: 101–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Posner, Richard. 2003. Economic Analysis of Law. 6th ed. New York: Aspen Law and Business.Google Scholar
  27. Reinganum, Jennifer. 1988. Plea Bargaining and Prosecutorial Discretion. American Economic Review 78: 713–728.Google Scholar
  28. Schulhofer, Stephen. 1988. Criminal Justice Discretion as a Regulatory System. The Journal of Legal Studies 17: 43–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of ConnecticutStorrs MansfieldUSA

Personalised recommendations