Date of Award

Spring 5-31-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Steven Penrod

Second Reader

Candace McCoy

Third Advisor

Kelloir Smith


Prosecutors, defendants, and defense attorneys must make decisions as to whether to accept a plea offer or proceed to trial every day. Approximately 95% of state and federal convictions result from guilty pleas (Redlich et al., 2017; Thaxton, 2013; Gazal-Ayal & Tor, 2012; Redlich & Shteynberg, 2016; Edkins, 2011; Weatherly & Kehn, 2013; Helm et al., 2018; Gregory et al., 1978). Some estimate this number to be as high as 97% to 99% (Redlich & Bonventre, 2015; Helm et al., 2018). It is also estimated that every two seconds a defendant pleads guilty (Redlich & Bonventre, 2015). In 1980, 19% of federal criminal cases went to trial, but by 2010 this number was at less than 3% (Redlich & Shteynberg, 2016). In theory, plea deals are enticing as they put into place safeguards for defendants rather than the uncertainty that comes with going to trial. Therefore, plea bargains give defendants the opportunity to choose between the certainty of a specific amount of time in jail, probation, or a lesser charge rather than take their case to trial with unknown outcomes. On the other hand, by accepting a plea deal, defendants waive their right to silence, the prosecution proving their guilt, and the opportunity to confront their accusers, among other rights (Redlich & Bonventre, 2015; Redlich et al., 2017; Joselow, 2019). Nevertheless, a defendant who chooses to go to trial has been shown to receive on average about nine times more severe of a sentence than guilty plea sentences (McCoy, 2005). This trial penalty most defendants who choose to go to trial face can make even the innocent feel coerced to take plea deals. This study seeks to investigate whether participants asked to assume either guilt or innocence will feel the trial penalty is coercive and unjust.


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