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J.J. Prescott photo

Professor Prescott I-CORPS

a PSC Research Project [ARCHIVE DISPLAY]

Investigator:   J.J. Prescott

Overview and Intellectual Merits of the Proposed Activity:
This project will explore the commercial viability of automated bargaining software that will more efficiently and effectively resolve disputes between the government and (potentially anonymous) individuals accused or convicted of minor offenses. Judges have extensive adjudicatory authority to resolve minor infractions such as unpaid parking tickets and failure to appear for low-level misdemeanors. Yet because the deal-making process has not kept pace with technological innovation, the many potential benefits of judicial discretion in this domain remain unrealized. Currently, an offender wishing to resolve an outstanding warrant or other legal issue must either hire a lawyer or surrender to authorities (e.g., by physically appearing in court). The former approach is expensive, and the latter process involves risk of incarceration (and other sanctions) and is time consuming (e.g., perhaps requiring a full work day in court). Unsurprisingly, many offenders choose to ?live with? their fugitive status, notwithstanding the fact that their record limits their employability, reduces their ability to access loans and public benefits and services, and spurs them to engage in costly avoidance behavior. Technology that 1) frees judges to reach binding arrangements without the need for a court appearance or legal representation and that 2) offers defendants the ability to negotiate with the government anonymously facilitates dispute resolution by reducing expenses on both sides and by mitigating the risk and unpredictable inconvenience of traditional surrender. Governments will see more revenue, smaller politically embarrassing warrant backlogs, and a reduction in the costs of outstanding criminal records. Individuals, in turn, will benefit financially, socially, and emotionally from resolving their outstanding warrants and living with a clean record.

Broader Impacts of the Proposed Activity:
The technology has substantial commercial potential. Currently, tens of millions of people in the U.S. live with outstanding, minor problems with courts, such as bench warrants and unpaid fines. These individuals suffer financially as a result and regularly avoid contact with the government out of fear of being arrested. These large backlogs are politically embarrassing and impose costs on state and local governments by forgoing significant revenue and draining limited enforcement resources. By facilitating mutually beneficial deals between courts and affected individuals, the technology may allow a commercial entity to profit by ameliorating these significant private and social problems. In addition, the technology may have many valuable alternative applications: The technology can be modified to automate legal tasks that currently require the direct involvement of multiple, highly-compensated attorneys, such as plea bargaining. The technology may also have uses in non-legal fields, such as automating college admissions and financial aid decisions. Lastly, by learning more about the offender decision making process, the project may provide court personnel, judges and policy makers with actionable insights how to improve court efficiency and improve offender compliance rates.

Funding Period: 10/01/2012 to 03/31/2014

This PSC Archive record is displayed for historical reference.

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