Further Exploration of the Role Played by Pleas

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

In my previous blog post, I explained the occurrence of pleas and why defendants might choose to plead guilty, including financial, time, or other risk factors. This blog post will expand upon that specifying in the category of guilty plea bargains. I did statistical analysis between cases that took plea bargains (we’ll call them PB cases) and non-plea bargain cases (NPB cases) to look for discrepancies within any of the variables between the two sets of cases.

From what I found, there were no discrepancies except for the variable “tactic” which includes condensed categories such as: CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear defense weapons,) Conspiracy (i.e Conspiracy: murder, Conspiracy: material/financial support, etc.,) Direct Person-to-Person violence (i.e Assault, Beheading, Murder, Kidnapping, etc.,) Explosives/Arson (i.e IID, IED, military/commercial explosives,) Non-physical violence (i.e Material/financial support, Perjury/Obstruction of Justice, etc.,) Not linked/Unknown, and Various methods.

I chose to look further into this disjuncture and see if there were any significant findings between the relation of tactic variables and PB/NPB. What I found is that there was a significant relation between NPB cases and all of the tactics.

  • 71.4% of tPP’s cases were NPB cases, compared to only 26% being PB cases, and consequently in every single tactic variable mentioned above, NPB were the most frequent pleads.

When looking into outside literature, I found that the most common discrepancy between plea bargains and other variables found by other academics was race. In Carlos Berdejó’s findings within Criminalizing Race: Racial Disparities in Plea-Bargaining, he found that “white defendants are 25% more likely than black defendants to have their most serious initial charge dropped or reduced… [as well as] 75% more likely… to be convicted for crimes carrying no possible incarceration.” (2018)

I wanted to see if this finding was similar to the cases within tPP’s dataset, and my statistical calculations proved this to be true: 28.7% of white defendants were offered plea bargains by the court, while only 10.1% of black defendants were. Combining this finding within tPP’s dataset and outside literature which put blame on police racial bias, it can be concluded that white defendants take plea bargains at almost triple the rate that African Americans do within tPP’s data, and this is likely a consequence of racial bias within our criminal justice system.

– Isabella


Berdejó, Carlos. “Criminalizing Race: Racial Disparities in Plea Bargaining.” SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, September 13, 2017. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3036726.

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