Examining the Effect of Case and Trial Factors on Defense Attorneys' Plea Decision-Making
This study was supported by an American Psychology-Law Society Early Career Professional grant.
Psychology Crime & Law
Defense attorneys are attuned to the defendant’s likelihood of conviction at trial, based on the strength of the evidence, in forming their plea decisions. A higher threshold for conviction (i.e. unanimous jury verdict rule versus majority rule), could affect defense attorneys’ willingness to take cases to trial. In this study, we examined defense attorney decision-making by presenting defense attorneys with a hypothetical case summary in which the jury verdict rule was unanimous versus majority rule (experiment one, N = 82), and the strength of the evidence was weak versus strong (experiment two, N = 81). In experiment one, there was no direct or indirect effect of jury verdict rule on plea decision-making. Rather, defense attorney estimates of the defendant’s likelihood of conviction predicted plea decisions; defense attorneys who perceived a higher likelihood of conviction were more likely to recommend plea bargaining than those who perceived a lower likelihood of conviction. In experiment two, strength of evidence influenced a number of defense attorney decisions. Defense attorneys in strong evidence conditions were more likely to recommend plea bargaining, rated the defendant’s likelihood of conviction higher, and their probability of winning at trial lower than those in weak evidence conditions.
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Henderson, K. S. (2020). Examining the effect of case and trial factors on defense attorneys’ plea decision-making. Psychology, Crime & Law, 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/1068316X.2020.1805744