A Criminal Plea Bargain Simulation

This two-party criminal plea bargain negotiation is between a prosecutor and a public defender for a man charged with aggravated rape.

By on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

criminal plea bargain

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) at PON offers hundreds of role simulations, from two-party, single-issue negotiations to complex multi-party exercises. State v. Huntley is a two-party criminal plea bargain negotiation between a prosecutor and a public defender for a man charged with aggravated rape.

Criminal Plea Bargain Scenario: Two police officers on routine patrol were stopped at 2:30 a.m. by a woman screaming that she had been raped by a man in a nearby car. When approached, the man fled but was soon apprehended. The woman’s story bears a remarkable similarity to that of another woman for whose alleged brutal rape the man, Huntley, was recently acquitted. However, the knife the victim describes cannot be found, and the woman has announced that she will not testify against Huntley in court for fear of ridicule if he is not convicted. The prosecutor is running for higher office and has regularly emphasized stiffer sentencing for sex crimes as a campaign theme. This prosecutor was disqualified from Huntley’s last trial for prejudice, after a remark about castration. The public defender is the same attorney who defended Huntley at his last trial. Both sides have some obvious problems with their cases and a variety of other conflicting and complementary interests in scheduling and attitudes toward alternative treatment programs. They are meeting to discuss a possible plea bargain.


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MECHANICS: The case benefits from careful preparation. Most participants will take some time to become familiar with the basics of the criminal justice system and the mechanics of sentencing. Negotiation time runs between 30 and 60 minutes. The review can vary from an hour to two. The case was designed as a one-on-one negotiation.

TEACHING MATERIALS:

  • For all parties:
    • Police Officer’s Investigation Report
    • Overview of the Plea Bargaining Process
    • Rehabilitation Programs for Sex Offenders in Maine
    • Assorted Crime and Sentencing Statistics
  • Role-specific:
    Confidential Instructions for the:

    • Prosecutor
    • Public Defender
  • Teacher’s Package:
    • All of the above

PROCESS THEMES: attorney/client relations; commitment; compliance; credibility; delay tactics; emotions; ethics; fairness; Gilligan’s two voices; issue control; lawyering; legitimacy; objective criteria; offers, first; options, generating; power imbalance; precedents; public opinion; recurring negotiations; relationship; risk aversion; risk perception; time constraints.

MAJOR LESSONS:

This case presents the classic lawyer’s conflict of personal values and professional role in a salient, traditional context. It is based on a real case and is almost brutally realistic. Given the tremendous discretion available, it is highly relevant to ask how personal feeling could not influence the outcome, and how you would measure whether or to what extent it had. From a larger view, one can ask whether, in fact, the system does not expect and rely on the exercise of just such personal discretion, and if so, how we feel about that. What regulatory mechanisms are there? How should the system weigh the probability of future harm against procedural rights? Under what circumstances, if any, are non-absolute answers to this question not destructive of the moral foundations of the system?

Cooperative, competitive, and principled approaches are each likely to lead to quite different outcomes, raising questions about which is better, for whom, and why.

Share your criminal plea bargain experiences with us in the comments.

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Comments

2 Responses to “A Criminal Plea Bargain Simulation”

  • Martin F.

    Plea bargaining is a staple of practising criminal law, in my view. The outcome of efforts expended to reach an agreement vary from file to file and accused to accused. I have always found that being reasonable or realistic in possible outcomes and being sensitive to the interests of the other side, helps a lot. Actual frank discussions of the realities and accounting for the responsibilities of all involved in the process is essential to obtaining desirable results. I am a defence counsel practising in Canada.

    Reply
  • Criminal i.

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