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Emergent Organization of Plea Bargaining

NCJ Number
American Journal of Sociology Volume: 90 Issue: 4 Dated: (1985) Pages: 753-800
J F Padgett
Date Published
48 pages
This article analyzes four systems of plea bargaining within American criminal courts. These systems are examples of centralized authority, centralized contract, delegated authority, and delegated contract.
It is suggested that plea bargaining is a systematic transformation in the temporal formal structure caused by problems induced by the control formal structure. Variation in control structure and in exogenous constraints shapes the distinctive problems to be overcome and thereby the informal adaptations that are provoked. Thus, although self-interest and functional adaptation establish the form of plea bargaining, informal interpretations of defendants by judges and prosecutors shape the aggregate sentence discount schedules, and substantive justice sentencing problems experienced by judges and prosecutors shape the informal role interpretations they are willing to adopt. The judge-prosecutor relationship determines if plea bargaining is centralized or decentralized, while the judge-defendant relationship determines the contract versus authority structure of the plea bargain. Implicit and judicial plea bargaining exemplify centralized authority and contract structures, respectively. Charge reduction and sentence recommendation plea bargaining reflect delegated authority and contract structures, respectively. 1 table, 8 figures, and 49 references.