Understanding Plea Bargaining in a New Progressive DA’s Office: How Line Prosecutors Understand and Implement Progressive Goals Through Plea Decisions

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Plea deals resolve the vast majority of prosecuted criminal cases in the U.S. legal system. Prosecutors hold disproportionate power in plea bargaining and have been blamed for driving punitiveness and racial disparities. Progressive prosecutors aim to reverse these trends, but little is known about how they will alter plea practices. We conducted qualitative interviews with all the assistant district attorneys (ADAs, N = 19) in a mid-sized office with a newly elected progressive DA. Interviews discussed how ADAs implemented office policies and progressive goals in plea bargaining. Prosecutors described working to implement five main progressive goals in their plea decisions: (a) dismissing low-level drug possession charges; (b) avoiding over-penalization, particularly for “victimless” crimes; (c) declining to prosecute weak cases; (d) encouraging open communication with defense; and (e) promoting racial equity. Prosecutors’ descriptions of how these goals guided case decisions illuminate how progressive prosecution may affect the criminal justice system through plea bargaining.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Grodensky, CA; Crozier, WE; Gifford, EJ; Garrett, BL

Published Date

  • March 1, 2023

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 50 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 429 - 453

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1552-3594

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0093-8548

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/00938548221140356

Citation Source

  • Scopus