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Judge Effects, Case Characteristics, and Plea Bargaining

Kristin F. Butcher, Kyung H. Park and Anne Piehl ()

Journal of Labor Economics, 2021, vol. 39, issue S2, S543 - S574

Abstract: A growing literature uses random assignment of cases to judges to examine criminal sentencing. To extend this line of work, we directly examine how judicial “harshness” varies with the seriousness of criminal conviction. Using a model that respects the mix of cases and the noise produced by small caseloads, we find that case severity is best viewed as an endogenous outcome of bargaining. We also find that harsher judges have a higher share of cases failing to reach a plea bargain, but perhaps surprisingly, there is little evidence that large jumps in expected incarceration lead to differential plea bargain outcomes.

Date: 2021
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