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Incentives, criminal defence lawyers and plea bargaining

Stephen, Frank H. and Fazio, Giorgio and Tata, Cyrus (2008) Incentives, criminal defence lawyers and plea bargaining. International Review of Law and Economics, 28 (3). pp. 212-219.

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Plea bargaining has become a central feature of criminal procedure in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions. This paper explores an area seldom discussed in the economic literature on plea bargaining: the influence of the defence lawyer's fee contract on the terms of the bargain. In particular, it uses data from one jurisdiction of the impact on case trajectories of changes in publicly funded defence lawyers' contracts to test the proposition that the nature of the lawyer's contract influences how cases are managed. An event study methodology on a pooled time-series cross-section data set of case trajectories before and after the change in the nature of the contract is used to examine whether the new payment regime significantly changed the trajectories of cases through the summary criminal justice system. Overall the results seem to suggest that the behaviour of defence lawyers may be influenced by financial incentives. This implies that the terms of plea bargains reached between prosecution and defence lawyers may be affected by the defence lawyer's remuneration contract. Consequently, the authors conclude that the role of defence lawyers has been under-researched in the literature on the economics of plea bargaining.