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Plea Bargaining and Its History

Type of Source
Law Review
Albert Alschuler
79 Columbia Law Review 1
Publication Year


This article examines the historical rise of plea bargaining in the United States. The piece begins by examining the lack of plea bargaining in England prior to the U.S. founding period and the similar rejection of plea bargaining in the United States through most of the 19th century. The article then considers the rise of plea bargaining, particularly in the early 20th century, in response to over-criminalization. In its historical analysis, the piece also considers plea bargaining during the 20th century as a response to increasingly complex and lengthy trials.

Key Quote

“The rapid trials of the past plainly lacked safeguards that we consider essential today. It may be equally true, however, that our system of resolving criminal cases has now become absurd both in the complexity of its trial processes and in the summary manner in which it avoids trial in the great majority of cases. For all the praise lavished upon the American jury trial, this fact-finding mechanism has become so cumbersome and expensive that our society refuses to provide it. Rather than reconsider our overly elaborate trial procedures, we press most criminal defendants to forego even the more expeditious form of trial that defendants once were freely afforded as a matter of right.” p.41