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Psychology Public Policy and Law

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Judicial Involvement -- Legal status laws etc. -- United States, Defense (Criminal procedure)


The topic of judicial involvement in plea negotiations is a controversial issue, with potential benefits (e.g., ensuring that the process is fairer) and risks (e.g., inducing an innocent defendant to plead guilty). Currently, 20 jurisdictions explicitly prohibit judicial involvement in plea negotiations, whereas eight permit some type of involvement. We surveyed state court judges about judicial involvement in plea bargaining (colloquy and negotiations) and their perceptions on judicial participation. We expected judges in states that prohibit judicial involvement in negotiations to have a more negative view of judicial participation compared with judges in states that permit involvement or those in states that have no explicit laws permitting or prohibiting it. Our sample consisted of 233 state court judges, in states that permit, prohibit, or make no mention in their state policies regarding judicial involvement in plea negotiations. Our survey addressed components of standard involvement (judges’ expectations of the parties’ responsibilities and judges’ experiences with plea colloquies) and expanded involvement (judges’ experiences with and perceptions of participation in plea negotiations). Judges in permit states were more likely to endorse the benefits of increased judicial participation in plea negotiations compared with judges in no mention and prohibit states. Conversely, judges in prohibit states were more likely to acknowledge the existence of risks of increased judicial participation in plea negotiations compared with judges in no mention and permit states. These data suggest policies and procedures are not only associated with judges’ behavior in plea-bargaining but also their perceptions of this controversial practice.


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