Philosophy Colloquium: ‘Tortured Plea Bargains: The Legal Fiction of Feigning Guilt’

james-rocha-in-music-101-c1-copyProfessor James Rocha, pictured at right, will be the first speaker of the Philosophy Department ( colloquium at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, in Room 192 of the Peters Business Building. Dr. Rocha is doing some exciting research on the topic of “Plea Bargains,” and he will share his findings in a talk titled “Tortured Plea Bargains: The Legal Fiction of Feigning Guilt.” 

“While plea bargaining is the manner in which the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved, a number of legal scholars and philosophers have questioned the merits and justice of the system,”Rocha said. “As a society, we need to have a larger conversation about whether our criminal cases should be resolved by plea bargaining. My talk, which will pinpoint some new ways to see the problems of plea bargaining, will hopefully be a part of this necessary conversation.

Here is James’ abstract for the colloquium: Given the work of the Innocence Project (, along with many others, we now know that a number of people who plea bargain are innocent. This tragic state of affairs is no accident: the criminal (in)justice system is set up to make plea bargaining the most rational (or even only rational) choice for almost everyone facing criminal charges (about 90-95% of cases end in plea bargains).

Though there’s an easy utilitarian argument against this kind of system, I will argue that a Kantian perspective allows us to understand plea bargaining as a form of psychological torture. Plea bargaining can require an innocent person to persuade a judge that they are in fact guilty, thereby turning their own words, and even their own will, against themselves — making them complicit in their own, unwarranted punishment. 

Questions may be directed to Professor Veena Howard, Philosophy Department colloquium organizer, 


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