Econometrica: Mar 2017, Volume 85, Issue 2

Bargaining with Asymmetric Information: An Empirical Study of Plea Negotiations

https://doi.org/10.3982/ECTA12974
p. 419-452

Bernardo S. Silveira

This paper empirically investigates how sentences to be assigned at trial impact plea bargaining. The analysis is based on the model of bargaining with asymmetric information by Bebchuk, 1984. I provide conditions for the nonparametric identification of the model, propose a consistent nonparametric estimator, and implement it using data on criminal cases from North Carolina. Employing the estimated model, I evaluate how different sentencing reforms affect the outcome of criminal cases. My results indicate that lower mandatory minimum sentences could greatly reduce the total amount of incarceration time assigned by the courts, but may increase conviction rates. In contrast, the broader use of nonā€incarceration sentences for less serious crimes reduces the number of incarceration convictions, but has a very small effect over the total assigned incarceration time. I also consider the effects of a ban on plea bargains. Depending on the case characteristics, over 20 percent of the defendants who currently receive incarceration sentences would be acquitted if plea bargains were forbidden.

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