Plea discounts, time pressures, and false-guilty pleas in youth and adults who pleaded guilty to felonies in New York City.

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Psychology, Public Policy, and Law


The overwhelming majority of criminal cases are resolved by a guilty plea. Concerns have been raised about the potential for plea bargaining to be coercive, but little is known about the actual choices faced by defendants who plead guilty. Through interviews of youth and adults who pleaded guilty to felonies in New York City, we found that substantial discounts were offered to participants in exchange for their guilty pleas and that a sizable portion of both the youth and adults claimed either that they were completely innocent (27% and 19%, respectively) or that they were not guilty of what they were charged with (20% and 41%, respectively). Participants also reported infrequent contact with their attorneys prior to accepting their plea deals and very short time periods in which to make their decisions. Our findings suggest the plea-bargaining system in New York City may be fraught with promises of leniency, time pressures, and insufficient attorney advisement—factors that may undermine the voluntariness of plea deal decisions for some defendants.