Does the Threat of the Death Penalty Affect Plea Bargaining in Murder Cases? Evidence from New York's 1995 Reinstatement of Capital Punishment

TitleDoes the Threat of the Death Penalty Affect Plea Bargaining in Murder Cases? Evidence from New York's 1995 Reinstatement of Capital Punishment
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsKuziemko I
JournalAmerican Law and Economics Review
Volume8
Issue1
Pagination - 142
Date PublishedApril 2006
ISBN Number1465-7252, 1465-7252
KeywordsCrime, Criminal Law (K14), Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law (K42), Law, Murder, Northern America, Punishment, U.S.
AbstractThis 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 section 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.
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