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The Influence of Confessions on Guilty Pleas and Plea Discounts

NCJ Number
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law Volume: 24 Issue: 2 Dated: 2018 Pages: 147-157
Date Published
11 pages

This study examined how confessions, whether partial or full, influence guilty plea rates and plea discounts (the difference between sentence received at trial if convicted and sentence received as part of the plea).


The influence on confession evidence in trials is strong; triers of fact who hear confession evidence find these self-incriminating statements difficult to ignore, and in turn, vote to convict more often; however, most cases do not see the inside of a courtroom, but rather are resolved via plea bargains. The current study coded more than 500 district attorney case files for defendant statement type (i.e., not questioned by police, questioned but denied guilt, questioned and partially confessed, questioned and fully confessed), case disposition (guilty plea, trial, dismissal), and other pertinent information (e.g., initial charges, perceived strength of evidence). The study found that whereas those who denied guilt were the least likely to plead guilty, when they did plead, they enjoyed the largest plea discounts. In addition, partial and full confessors were found to be equally likely to plead guilty (both at near-ceiling levels), but partial confessors received the smallest plea discounts by far. The findings have implications for theories of remorse, punishment, and plea decisionmaking. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2018