This study compared the relative amount of charge bargaining (plea bargaining) in the counties of two States (Washington State and Maryland) and its impact on sentencing under two different sentencing guideline systems (voluntary guidelines and presumptive guidelines).
The study found that charge bargaining played an important role in determining sentencing outcomes. The findings also showed that measuring the difference in months of prison time determined by the charge bargain might provide a very different estimate of the impact of the prosecutorial discretion than is found by the rate of bargaining. Although the rate of charge bargaining was higher in the voluntary guidelines State (Maryland), its impact on sentences was greater in the presumptive guidelines State (Washington), as predicted. The finding of differential charge bargaining in these two jurisdictions suggests caution when comparing the results of studies of sentencing disparity across types of jurisdictions, since the conviction information in more structured systems may represent systematic movement from the arraignment charge. The charge-bargaining comparison across the two jurisdictions used data from the publicly available State Court Processing Statistics. Data were from all felony cases brought in May 1998 in the 75 largest U.S. counties. Data pertain to case processing from filing to disposition or for processing stages in 1 year, whichever occurs first. 5 tables and 49 references