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Reducing False Guilty Pleas and Wrongful Convictions through Exoneree Compensation

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A great concern with plea bargains is that they may induce innocent individuals to plead guilty to crimes they have not committed. In this article, we identify schemes that reduce the number of innocent pleas without affecting guilty individuals’ plea-bargaining incentives. Large compensations for exonerees reduce expected costs associated with wrongful determinations of guilt in trial and thereby reduce the number of innocent pleas. Any distortion in guilty individuals’ incentives to take plea bargains caused by these compensations can be offset by a small increase in the discounts offered for pleading guilty. Although there are many statutory-reform proposals for increasing exoneree compensation, no one has yet noted this desirable separating effect of compensations. We argue that such reforms are likely to achieve this result without causing losses in deterrence.

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