Working Paper 00-02
Department of Economics
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Prosecutorial Resources, Plea Bargaining, and the Decision to go to Trial

Scott Baker and Claudio Mezzetti

February 2, 2000

This paper examines the strategic interaction of a defendant and a prosecutor during the plea bargaining process. A four-stage game of incomplete information is developed where the defendant's guilt or innocence is private information but the amount of resources available to the prosecutor is common knowledge. The basic result of the paper is that equilibrium is semi-separating; the plea offer is accepted by a proportion of the guilty defendants and is rejected by all of the innocent defendants and the remaining guilty defendants. In this model an increase in the resources available to the prosecutor increases the proportion of guilty defendants who accept plea offers. Although the prosecutor is unable to generate complete separation of the guilty and innocent defendants through the plea bargaining process, prosecutorial resources are beneficial from a societal standpoint.

JEL Classification: K42

Department of Economics, CB #3305

University of North Carolina 919-966-5377

Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3305