justice scales

Duke Law Researchers Pry Open the ‘Black Box’ of Plea Bargaining

Most criminal cases never go to trial, as defendants opt to plead guilty behind closed doors rather than face the prospect of lengthy prison terms if they lose their case. A group of Duke University researchers, working with prosecutors in North Carolina and Massachusetts, have created a first-ever “open prosecution” model they say is much fairer.

justice scales

Has Plea Bargaining Distorted American Justice?

Every day, in the corridors of most U.S. courts, defense attorneys and prosecutors quietly negotiate plea deals in a system of “underground justice” that often shortchanges defendants. In a conversation with TCR about his new book, Texas scholar William Kelly offers an alternative.


The National Crisis of the Public Defender System

Constitutional guarantees of equal protection look hollow to poor, working-class Americans who are forced to turn to under-funded and overworked public defenders’ offices when they are in trouble with the law.

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Could Sentencing ‘Discounts’ Replace Plea Bargaining?

A forthcoming study argues that putting sentencing authority in the hands of impartial judges will curb prosecutors’ “unfettered” power to force poor defendants to plead guilty or face trial. The study authors propose a more transparent system, similar to Australia’s, which automatically reduces a sentence by fixed percentages if the accused elects to go to trial.

jury summons

Has Plea Bargaining Destroyed the Jury Trial?

Juries decide fewer than four percent of criminal cases today—and fewer than one percent of civil cases. The widespread use of plea bargaining, which helps prosecutors clear crowded dockets, is the principal reason—but it raises serious constitutional questions, says a University of Illinois College of Law professor.

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Freeing the Innocent: DNA Testing's First 25 Years

DNA testing has altered criminal justice. But what have we learned from the more than 300 documented DNA exonerations between 1989 and 2014? And what do we still need to know? These questions were at the heart of a conference last week at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston that attracted the nation's leading scholars and advocates in the field, including Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project; Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia; Richard Leo […]