The Effect of DNA Databases on Plea Bargaining
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Plea bargaining is a defining characteristic of the United States criminal justice system; according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 95% of the 1,079,000 felons convicted in state courts during 2004 pleaded guilty rather than face jury by trail. Despite the prominence of plea negotiations in the American judiciary, the implications of this process have not been subject to analysis that sufficiently matches its importance. Meanwhile, the increasing use of high-tech law enforcement tools like DNA databases, which increase the probability that repeat offenders are caught for their crimes, affect parties’ relative bargaining power and incentives. Most importantly, defendants have an incentive to negotiate lesser charges in order to avoid being added to their state’s DNA database, in exchange for longer sentences. We examine whether the introduction and expansion of DNA databases across the United States have affected plea bargaining by defendants. We use difference-in-differences analysis and State Court Process (SCP) data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is collected every two years and tracks felony cases from charging by prosecutors until final disposition. We test for the impact of DNA database expansions on the likelihood of pleading guilty to a crime, the likelihood of charge bargaining, and other sentencing outcomes.
Armstrong, Sarah K (2014). The Effect of DNA Databases on Plea Bargaining. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from