How Defense Attorneys Consult With Juvenile Clients About Plea Bargains

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Despite recent research attention, a lack of information still plagues the most common conviction process in the United States: the plea bargain. Further, even less is known about how juvenile defendants make plea bargain decisions. Juvenile plea bargaining is unique due to juveniles being considered independent minors while simultaneously being held to adult competency standards in court. Unfortunately, juvenile defendants are less likely than adults to have the necessary capacities for adjudicative competence. Given defense attorneys’ role in the plea bargain process, it is possible that they may be able to increase their clients’ knowledge and legal understanding. Additionally, defense attorneys may be able to facilitate meaningful client participation and better decision making. The current study takes an exploratory, qualitative approach to examine how defense attorneys prepare juveniles to make informed and autonomous plea bargain decisions in juvenile court. Data from interviews with juvenile defense attorneys suggest that juveniles are subjected to a quick decision-making process and tend to base their decisions on immediate gratification. Attorneys reported using one of three specific consultation strategies with their young clients. Ultimately, plea bargain discussions were described as occurring quickly, focused on the immediate case facts and outcomes, with less time and attention reserved for discussions about rights, or long-term, collateral consequences.

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