Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Tina M. Zottoli

Committee Member

Sarah Lowe

Committee Member

Tarika Daftary-Kapur

Committee Member

Jazmin Reyes Portillo


Individuals with trauma histories are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. However, little is known about how trauma-exposed individuals engage with the legal process. Over 90% of U.S. criminal convictions are resolved by guilty plea and in recent years it has become clear that guilty pleas are a leading cause of wrongful conviction. This dissertation used a newly developed, computerized interactive environment to explore the impact of trauma history on the likelihood that an innocent person will plead guilty to a crime they did not commit. Individuals with trauma histories are more likely to be risk averse when facing potential losses, may have diminished sensitivity to rewards, and may overvalue outcomes that come sooner in time rather than later in time. Since the plea process pits the certain loss of a plea deal against the uncertain loss at trial and involves potential outcomes that can occur at different points in time, I hypothesized that those with trauma exposure might be at a higher risk to plead guilty when innocent relative to those without trauma exposure. While I did not find any significant effects of trauma exposure alone on plea decisions, these data suggest that those with more severe trauma symptoms may be more likely to falsely accept a plea deal and more willing to accept longer plea sentences (on average) relative to those with less severe symptoms. Implications for trauma-informed practice and policy are discussed.

File Format


Available for download on Sunday, September 08, 2024