Institut für Kriminologie

Plea Bargaining in Criminal Cases

In its 2013 verdict the Bundesverfassungsgericht (German Federal Constitutional Court) ruled that (consensual) plea bargaining is a constitutional option to conclude a criminal trial. Simultaneously, though, the highest court in Germany established that there are tremendous deficits when it comes to this plea bargaining – as according to the former correspondent of the second senate (Zweiter Senat) – this practice tends to circumvent the very rules that the German Basic Law dictates.

Therefore, the Bundesverfassungsgericht clearly stated that the implemented preventive measures which control and are supposed to grant the constitutionality of plea bargaining have to be continuously evaluated according to their usefulness.

Said court ordered empirical evaluation of plea bargaining in criminal cases is undertaken by a collaborative research project of the University of Duesseldorf (Prof. Dr. Altenhain), the University of Frankfurt/Main (Prof. Dr. Jahn – judge at the Higher Regional Court) and the University of Tuebingen (Prof. Dr. Jörg Kinzig). Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Customer Protection this project aims to find out how plea bargaining in criminal cases is applied in light of the verdict of the Bundesverfassungsgericht on March 19, 2013. After a Europe-wide call for research proposals for an empirical research project, the project was awarded to the above-mentioned research collaboration consisting of researchers from the Universities of Duesseldorf, Frankfurt/Main and Tuebingen.

The project nature is primarily empirical. In addition to a thorough analysis of court rulings the project combines qualitative and quantitative research methods and data in order to investigate the application of plea bargaining in criminal cases. The two-year project will tackle the different perspectives of the various actors involved (e.g. judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys) by employing various surveys – both paper pencil and online – in order to shed light on the potential discrepancies between the legal requirements as per the ruling of the Bundesverfassungsgericht and the practical challenges of the plea bargaining process.

Beginning in June 2018 and with the support of the Conference of Ministers of Justice the project attempts to conduct an online survey of judges in criminal courts in all of the 16 Bundesländer. The hope of the research teams is to generate a large number of survey participants in order to strengthen the meaningfulness of the results. Additionally, this initial survey lays the groundwork for the following modules: the analysis of court files, an additional nationwide survey, and interviews with actors within the justice system. By combining various different data sources and methodological approaches, the project will not only provide a realistic overview as to the application of plea bargaining in criminal cases but also point out potential areas for necessary reform.

For more information please refer to the project website at

Karsten Altenhain, Matthias Jahn and Jörg Kinzig
– Project Heads of the Collaborative Research Project “Plea Bargaining in Criminal Cases“