Freedom Now or a Future Later: Pitting the Lasting Implications of Collateral Consequences Against Pretrial Detention in Decisions to Plead Guilty

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With a criminal conviction comes numerous restrictions on rights, and often these collateral consequences are not adequately communicated to a defendant accepting a plea deal. The question we posed was whether or not informing individuals of collateral consequences would alter their decisions to plead. Using prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984) and the theory of temporal discounting (Ainslie, 1975), we hypothesized that the delayed nature of collateral consequences—especially if the consequences were competing with overly enticing immediate rewards to accepting a plea deal, namely the ability to be released from pretrial detention—would not have the desired effect of exerting a strong influence on decisions to plead. Across two studies—the first, an exploratory within-subjects design; the second, a more controlled between-subjects design—we found that while actual guilt mattered the most with regard to decisions to plead, pretrial detention also weighed heavy (especially influential in challenging our innocent participants’ steadfastness to hold out for a trial). Collateral consequences did not have as large of an impact, especially if pretrial detention was involved. We also saw that, in general, participants were not opposed to the imposition of most collateral consequences. Future directions for plea bargaining research are discussed.

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