Too Young to Plead? Risk, Rationality, and Plea Bargaining's Innocence Problem in Adolescents
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Dec 21 , 2017
39 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 18, 2018
The overwhelming majority of both adult and adolescent convictions occur as the result of guilty pleas rather than trial. This means that convictions are often the result of decisions made by defendants rather than jurors. It is therefore important to study decision-making in defendants to ensure convictions are occurring in a fair and principled way. Research suggests that the current plea bargaining system is leading innocent defendants to systematically plead guilty to crimes that they did not commit, and that this may be more widespread in adolescents than adults. The current study uses Fuzzy-Trace Theory to develop and test and explanation of why adolescents are more likely than adults to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. We show that as predicted adolescents are more likely than adults to plead guilty when they are innocent, and that this is due to a developmental stage in decision-making whereby values are unlikely to be retrieved and applied when making decisions. This has implications for post-conviction claims of innocence by adolescents, procedural rules governing juvenile plea bargaining, and the practice of adolescent plea bargaining more generally.
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