extralegal factors | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Extralegal factors are things that exist outside of the law or that are contrary to the law.

Extralegal factors refer to those factors that are not necessarily determined by law or legal processes but can still have an impact on the outcome of legal proceedings. These factors may include social, economic, or political factors, as well as biases or prejudices that are not supposed to play a role in legal decisions but can nonetheless influence them.

In the criminal justice system, extralegal factors can play a significant role in the outcome of a case. For example, a defendant’s race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status may influence the decisions made by judges, prosecutors, or jurors. Research has shown that people from certain racial or ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to harsher punishments than others. Similarly, individuals who are poor or who cannot afford legal representation may be more likely to be convicted or receive harsher sentences than those who can afford to hire a private attorney.

Extralegal factors can also play a role in plea bargaining, which is the process by which a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a reduced sentence or other concessions. The decision to offer a plea bargain or to accept one can be influenced by a variety of extralegal factors, such as the defendant’s background, the strength of the evidence against them, and the political climate at the time of the case. For example, prosecutors may be more likely to offer plea bargains to defendants who are seen as sympathetic or who have strong community ties, while judges may be more likely to accept plea bargains in cases where the evidence is weak or where the defendant has already served a significant amount of time in pre-trial detention.

Extralegal factors can also influence the decision to grant parole or probation, which are forms of early release from prison or alternatives to incarceration. Factors such as the offender’s age, race, and criminal history, as well as the political climate and public opinion, can all influence whether a parole or probation board decides to grant early release. Similarly, extralegal factors can also influence decisions about the conditions of release, such as the requirement to undergo drug testing or attend counseling sessions.

Overall, while the law is intended to be impartial and based solely on the facts of the case, extralegal factors can often play a significant role in the criminal justice system. It is important for legal professionals to be aware of the potential impact of these factors and to work to ensure that legal decisions are based solely on the law and the facts of the case rather than on biases or prejudices.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023

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