CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Edkins & Dervan on Plea Bargaining's Innocence Problem

Vanessa Edkins and Lucian E. Dervan (Florida Institute of Technology and Southern Illinois University School of Law) have posted Pleading Innocents: Laboratory Evidence of Plea Bargaining's Innocence Problem (21 Current Research in Social Psychology 14 (2013)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

We investigated plea bargaining by making students actually guilty or innocent of a cheating offense and varying the sentence that they would face if found ‘guilty’ by a review board. As hypothesized, guilty students were more likely than innocent students to accept a plea deal (i.e., admit guilt and lose credit; akin to accepting a sentence of probation) (Chi-square=8.63, p<.01) but we did not find an effect of sentence severity. Innocent students, though not as likely to plead as guilty students, showed an overall preference (56% across conditions) for accepting a plea deal. Implications and future directions are discussed.

"The Innocent Defendant’s Dilemma: An Innovative Empirical Study of Plea Bargaining’s Innocence Problem," 103 Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 1 (2013): A longer law review article discussing the findings and examining the implications of the results on the constitutionality of plea bargaining is available at this here: 2071397.

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But doesn't using cheating and loss of class credit or whatever other punishment the school may impose instead of crime and criminal-justice imposed punishment skew the results? Just curious. Looking forward to reading!

Posted by: Chris | Jul 12, 2014 6:07:03 PM

Seems pretty useless as a corollary for what happens in real courts. The college's death penalty (expulsion?) seems scary and even extraordinarily damaging for most students who might face such a penalty. Yet it pales in comparison to harsh punishments meted out routinely by prosecutors and courts wielding sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimums and other strong-arm contrivances designed to make trials too risky (even for innocents and the wrongly accused) and ensure justice is "tough" and not merely just.

It's not uncommon in the federal system, for example, for government attorneys to plausibly threaten up to 30 years imprisonment to coerce plea deals resulting in sentences of a year or two or even probation. And of course those convicted in such a scheme live with the potentially crippling stigma for the rest of their lives.

Posted by: John K | Jul 13, 2014 7:50:58 AM

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