Scholars agree that the American prosecutor possesses a great amount of discretion (see Albonetti, 1987; Kersetter, 1990; Thomas & Fitch, 1976). Scholars also agree that such discretion has the potential to result in discrimination in the form of unwarranted disparity (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2000). American prosecutors use their discretion to make initial charging decisions, to seek the death penalty, and to negotiate plea agreements.
One of the most profound and frequently studied issues in the American criminal justice system is racial discrimination. Research indicates that Black offenders are disproportionately represented in prison populations (Blumstein, Cohen, Martin, & Tonry, 1983; Walker, et al., 2000). Although Black citizens only represent 13% of the U.S. population, they represent 45% of the incarcerated population in state and federal prisons (Harrison & Beck, 2003). On its face, Blumstein and his associates (1983) suggested that the overrepresentation of certain groups in prison populations may be a direct result of disparate treatment at sentencing. One argument Blumstein and his colleagues (1983) proffered, though, was that some of the racial disparity in prison populations might be attributed to a cumulative effect, whereby discretionary decisions at each stage contributed to the overall overrepresentation of racial minorities in prison (Blumstein, et al., 1983). Wilmot and Spohn (2004) argued that plea bargaining decisions which can play an important role in court processing. The current research project attempts to examine potential disparate treatment in one of these prior stages–the plea bargaining stage.
The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 22(3) 2006. SAGE Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1177/1043986206292369
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jeremy_ball/14/