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February 6, 2024

"The Limited Moral Relevance of Pleas and Verdicts"

The title of this post is the title of this book chapter recently posted to SSRN and authored by Adam J. Kolber.  Here is its abstract:

Pleas and verdicts dramatically affect our moral assessments of defendants even when they add no new information about underlying evidence.  People often perceive defendants differently just prior to a verdict relative to just after, even when they know the underlying facts as well as jurors do.  We seem to give pleas and verdicts moral significance that outstrips their epistemic significance.

In this chapter, I argue that pleas and verdicts have less moral significance than we often ascribe to them.  While we sometimes give conviction a kind of magical significance, pleas and verdicts usually only provide modest morally-relevant information at least to those closely following a case.  Though some communicative theories of punishment ascribe special non-instrumental symbolic meaning to conviction, what I call the “radical indeterminacy of punishment severity” undermines the ability of pleas and convictions to accurately communicate amounts of condemnation.

February 6, 2024 at 08:14 PM | Permalink


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