Founding Director

The PBI is the vision of Professor Lucian E. Dervan, Professor of Law and Director of Criminal Justice Studies at Belmont University College of Law, who serves as the institute’s Founding Director. As a leading global researcher and expert regarding plea bargaining and the phenomenon of false pleas of guilty, he has devoted his career to reforming the plea bargaining system in the United States and around the world.

Professor Dervan is Professor of Law and Director of Criminal Justice Studies at Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tennessee. His research focusses on domestic and international criminal law, and he is the author of four books and dozens of journal articles and book chapters. He is also the founder of the Plea Bargaining Blog.

In addition to his writings, Professor Dervan  regularly lectures regarding plea bargaining law, policy, and research. He has twice been invited to give testimony before the United States House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee and has also testified before the Federal Senate of Brazil regarding pending plea bargaining legislation. In each area of his work, he strives to ensure that his research is relevant to essential public policy considerations and that his research holds the potential to lead to improvements in the law.

Professor Dervan’s main area of research is plea bargaining, which includes the creation of interdisciplinary psychological studies to gain better insights into the decision-making processes of defendants and research to expose and explain the symbiotic relationship between plea bargaining and over-criminalization.

In 2013, Professor Dervan and Dr. Vanessa Edkins published their seminal article, “The Innocent Defendant’s Dilemma: An Innovative Empirical Study of Plea Bargaining’s Innocence Problem” (Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology).  This piece expanded our understanding of the psychology of defendant decision-making and demonstrated that more than 56 percent of innocent participants in their psychological deception study were willing to falsely confess to an offense they had not committed in return for the benefits of a plea bargain. This study has now been replicated and validated by psychology labs around the world as other labs continue to explore and develop plea bargaining’s innocence problem and the innocent defendant’s dilemma discussed in Professor Dervan’s and Dr. Edkin’s research.

Professor Dervan went on to conduct further research related to the constitutionality of modern plea practices, the prevalence of false testimony in return for bargains, the influence of collateral consequences and pretrial detention on false pleas of guilty, and risks posed to public safety from false pleas of guilty. Professor Dervan has also engaged in plea bargaining work internationally, including conducting psychological studies in Japan and South Korea after the 2016 amendments to the Japanese Code of Criminal Procedure permitted bargaining for the first time, presenting to international bodies, and providing plea bargaining training. Many of his writings are available on his SSRN page.

In 2018-19, Professor Dervan served as Chair of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section. As Chair, he created a task force to examine the role of plea bargaining in the criminal justice system. He went on to Co-Chair the task force from 2019-2023. The Task Force included representatives from various corners of the criminal justice system – the prosecution, defense, judiciary, academy, various politically diverse advocacy groups, and the state and federal systems. In February 2023, the task force released its report, which contained 14 Principles to provide a path forward to a fairer, more transparent, and more just system of criminal adjudication. In August 2023, the Fourteen principles were presented to the American Bar Association House of Delegates in Resolution 502 and were overwhelmingly adopted as the official policy of the association.

Building on the collaborative work of the ABA Criminal Justice Section Plea Bargaining Task Force and in response to the need for more education and outreach regarding plea bargaining research, Professor Dervan launched the Plea Bargaining Institute in 2023.

Prior to joining the academy, Professor Dervan served as a law clerk to the Honorable Phyllis A. Kravitch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He also practiced law with King & Spalding LLP and Ford & Harrison LLP. At King & Spalding LLP, Professor Dervan was a member of the Special Matters and Government Investigations team.

Professor Dervan received his Juris Doctorate with High Honors from Emory University School of Law, where he was an Emory Scholar, served as an Articles Editor for the Emory Law Journal, and was elected a member of the Order of the Coif.  He received his Bachelor of Arts with Honors from Davidson College.

You can follow him on Twitter at @LucianDervan.

Professor Dervan Presents the 14 Principles on Plea Bargaining to the ABA House of Delegates