legal issues
stop making deals with sex offenders that include them not having their DNA entered into CODIS

The Effect of DNA Databases on Plea Bargaining. (May 2014)
Sarah Kathleen Armstrong Department of Economics Texas A&M University
Research Advisor: Dr. Jonathon Meer Department of Economics
Plea bargaining is a defining characteristic of the United States criminal justice system;
according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 95% of the 1,079,000 felons convicted in state
courts during 2004 pleaded guilty rather than face jury by trail.1 Despite the prominence of plea
negotiations in the American judiciary, the implications of this process have not been subject to
analysis that sufficiently matches its importance. Meanwhile, the increasing use of high-tech law
enforcement tools like DNA databases, which increase the probability that repeat offenders are
caught for their crimes, affect parties’ relative bargaining power and incentives. Most
importantly, defendants have an incentive to negotiate lesser charges in order to avoid being
added to their state’s DNA database, in exchange for longer sentences. We examine whether the
introduction and expansion of DNA databases across the United States have affected plea
bargaining by defendants. We use difference-in-differences analysis and State Court Process
(SCP) data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is collected every two years and tracks
felony cases from charging by prosecutors until final disposition. We test for the impact of DNA
database expansions on the likelihood of pleading guilty to a crime, the likelihood of charge
bargaining, and other sentencing outcomes. Estimates provide evidence that database eligible
offenders are more likely to accept charge bargains and less likely to accept sentence bargains

relative to defendants that do not face database collection, indicating that plea bargaining may
help parties involved in plea negotiations to assist offenders in avoiding DNA database

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