Prisoner’s Dilemma situation in Georgia

One of the 19 people charged in the Georgia election interference case has pleaded guilty.

Former Republican bail bondsman Scott Hall, one of the 19 people charged alongside Donald Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results in the state of Georgia, entered into a plea agreement on Friday, becoming the first defendant to plead guilty in the sprawling criminal case.

A live video of the court proceeding showed Hall pleading guilty to five counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with the performance of election duties, a misdemeanor charge.

Hall was sentenced to five years’ probation, a $5,000 fine, 200 hours of community service, and to write an apology letter to the state.

This is a relatively light sentence and there are two possible reasons for that. One is that he is a minor figure in the whole operation. The other is that he has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in return for more lenient treatment. His testimony is thought likely to cause the most harm to Sydney Powell, whose trial is due to start on October 27.

So we now have a real-life, enlarged version of the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma situation. In that problem, two prisoners have to make a decision. If they stick together and do not cooperate with the prosecutors, they increase their chances of escaping punishment altogether by being found not guilty. But if they are found guilty, they will get stiff sentences. On the other hand, if one prisoner cooperates with the prosecutors and betrays the other prisoner, that prisoner can get a light sentence, while the other prisoner gets a heavy sentence.

In this case, because of the large number of defendants, all the other defendants now have to start making more complex calculations. The earlier they plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors, the more likely they are to get light sentences as part of a plea deal. As time goes by, the information that any individual can provide gets less valuable because prosecutors would have got most of what they need from the ones who made deals earlier. So each person has to guess whether their co-defendants will cooperate with the other defendants by staying silent and risking stiff sentences if found guilty or betray them by spilling the beans to prosecutors in return for a lighter sentence.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Somwhow I do not expect this crowd to be big on loyalty, not if they follow the example of their boss.

  2. steve oberski says

    My issue with the Prisoner’s Dilemma is that it assumes that prisoners are sociopaths who share no values in common with humanity, making it not very useful for actual human beings.

    But in this case the prisioners are sociopaths so it is probably a good way of modeling the “dilemma”.

  3. says

    My issue with the Prisoner’s Dilemma is that it assumes that prisoners are sociopaths

    I don’t think it does. It just recognizes that:
    a) people are not perfectly trustworthy,
    b) if the other person betrays you, staying loyal only harms you with nothing gained from it, and
    c) the same reasoning applies to the other person.

    The point of the dilemma is that the best course of action isn’t dictated by your own attitude, but by the attitude of the other person. The dilemma is not a question of sociopathy, but rather a matter of interpersonal trust. If the prisoners trust each other, they can both win. If not, then they can’t, sociopath or not.

    Natural references to 1984, divide-and-conquer tactics, the undermining of true human communities, and the general disposition of our global civilization.

  4. robert79 says

    @3 LykeX

    Argued like a true sociopath, self-interest is the only thing that matters! (Okay, sorry, I’m exaggerating a bit just to make a point…)

    “b) if the other person betrays you, staying loyal only harms you with nothing gained from it”

    The gain is not to you personally, but to society as a whole. I’m not the kind of person who would commit a serious crime, but if I did I’d probably be so guilt-ridden I’d turn myself in, even if it was a “perfect crime” with no evidence pointing to me.

  5. says

    Where the Prisoner’s Dilemma fails in the real world is that both prisoners are acting in isolation with no consideration for confederates still on the outside liable to arrange a prison murder for which ever prisoner ratted out the other. This is what keeps criminals loyal. They are rarely willing to risk their own lives, or the lives of their families, in exchange for a lighter sentence, even when promised witness protection.

  6. John Morales says

    Um, it’s a game-theoretic thought experiment; it has about as much to do with prisoners as the trolley problem has to do with trolleys.

  7. Matt G says

    They should heed the words of Billy Joel:

    And we would all go down together
    We said we’d all go down together
    Yes, we would all go down together

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *