This article investigates whether the death penalty encourages defendants charged with potentially capital crimes to plead guilty in exchange for lesser sentences. I exploit a natural experiment in New York State: the 1995 reinstatement of capital punishment, coupled with the public refusal of some prosecutors to pursue death sentences (N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25 [McKinney 1975]). Using individual-level data on all felony arrests in the state between 1985 and 1998, I find the death penalty leads defendants to accept plea bargains with harsher terms, but does not increase defendants' overall propensity to plead guilty. A differences-in-differences analysis of a national cross-section of homicide defendants confirms these results.
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