Public defenders and other court actors most often engage in behind-the-scene plea negotiating to manage overwhelming workloads and to dispose of cases as quickly and efficiently as possible. In prior work, scholars have documented an increased reliance on plea bargaining and the deleterious impact of the practice on the legal process and the rights of individuals accused of a crime; however, this research has not systematically analyzed the decisions made, and the perspectives of justice of society’s most disadvantaged and arguably most important actors of the court, the defendants. Relying on data collected in a Midwestern public defense system, this article focuses attention to the intersection of indigent defense and plea bargaining by shedding light on the decision-making processes and perceptions of justice among indigent defendants. Our findings indicate that regardless of innocence, defendants plead guilty because it offers the quickest pathway out of court and with little risk; however, misunderstanding and fear often mediate decisions to plead guilty. Also, while the majority of defendants perceive the plea outcome to be fair, they do not always perceive the plea process as fair.
Hussemann, Jeanette and Siegel, Jonah
"Pleading Guilty: Indigent Defendant Perceptions of the Plea Process,"
Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy: Vol. 13
, Article 3.
Available at: https://trace.tennessee.edu/tjlp/vol13/iss2/3