U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Opening Pandora's Box: How Does Defendant Race Influence Plea Bargaining?

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 33 Issue: 3 Dated: April 2016 Pages: 398-426
Date Published
April 2016
29 pages
Using unique data on misdemeanor marijuana cases, this study examined the impact of defendants' race on prosecutors' decisions to make (a) plea offers for a lesser charge and (b) sentence offers for non-custodial punishments.
Preliminary findings indicated that Black defendants were less likely to receive reduced charge offers, and both Black and Latino defendants were more likely to receive custodial sentence offers; however, these disparities were largely explained by legal factors, evidence, arrest circumstances, and court-actor characteristics, but Black defendants were still more likely to receive custodial sentence offers after including these controls. No differences were found between White and Asian defendants. Implications for research and prosecutorial practices are discussed.

Date Published: April 1, 2016