Does the Threat of the Death Penalty Affect Plea Bargaining in Murder Cases?

This article investigates whether the death penalty encourages defendants charged with potentially capital crimes to plead guilty in exchange for lesser sentences. I exploit a natural experiment in New York State: the 1995 reinstatement of capital punishment, coupled with the public refusal of some prosecutors to pursue death sentences (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25 [McKinney 1975]). Using individual-level data on all felony arrests in the state between 1985 and 1998, I find the death penalty leads defendants to accept plea bargains with harsher terms, but does not increase defendants’ overall propensity to plead guilty. A differences-in-differences analysis of a national cross-section of homicide defendants confirms these results.

Source: “Does the Threat of the Death Penalty Affect Plea Bargaining in Murder Cases? Evidence from New York’s 1995 Reinstatement of Capital Punishment” from Am Law Econ Rev (Spring 2006) 8 (1): 116-142.

Great nonfiction crime books are “Low Life”, “Homicide”, “The Big Con”, Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison, Donnie Brasco and Wiseguy, which inspired GoodFellas.

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