To assess the fairness and consistency of the process by which felony disputes are handled, an analysis was conducted of data on almost 7,500 defendants tried in 9 courts in Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
For these cases, contested trials accounted for 8 percent of dispositions, dismissals for 11 percent, and guilty pleas for 81 percent. Consequently, analysis focused on the guilty-plea process. Data analysis suggests that a fairly high level of order prevailed in the informal process through which most felony cases are resolved. Important changes in charges (primary charge reductions) occurred only in about 15 percent of guilty plea cases, and almost 80 percent of those who pleaded guilty received a sentence that fell within a handful of tightly defined sentencing clusters (probation, 4- to 6-month sentence, 15-month sentence). What emerges from these data is a system of bureaucratic justice grounded in relatively pragmatic concerns and adhering to informal norms and procedures designed to pigeonhole defendants into a few rough groupings. While the consistency and order that prevails in the guilty plea process may be criticized from a number of perspectives, it does reduce be criticized from a number of perspectives, it does reduce the role of manipulation and sentencing disparity. 26 footnotes.
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