The Abolition of Plea Bargaining: A Case Study of El Paso County, Texas
This Article reports the results of a field survey of a judicially initiated ban on plea bargaining in felony prosecutions in El Paso County, Texas. The study is based primarily upon personal interviews with participants in the criminal justice process and a statistical analysis of a random sample of 1,395 felony prosecutions commenced in the district courts during the four-year period from 1974 to 1977 – two years when plea bargaining was practiced and two years after implementation of the purported prohibition in late 1975. It also discusses the reasons for judicial dissatisfaction with the prosecutor's explicit policy toward plea bargaining during the period before the ban.
After describing plea bargaining practices before this change in policy, the Article reports the impact of the attempted ban on various facets of the criminal process during the subsequent two-year period. The study focuses on the following questions: (1) Is it possible for a system relying principally upon negotiated pleas to be supplanted by a system relying heavily on adjudication through jury trials? (2) In a system without plea bargaining, are there still substantial numbers of defendants who choose to plead guilty? (3) What effect did the prohibition have on the disposition of indicted cases? (4) How did the ban affect charging practices? (5) What effect did the ban have on case processing time? (6) How did the prohibition affect sentencing practices? Before the ban, had longer sentences been imposed on defendants who pleaded guilty than on those who were convicted by a jury?