For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 30

To examine this phenomenon, all of
the students who participated in the
test were accused of cheating on the
individual work portion. Through the
use of a confederate in the room, the
study was structured so that only about
half of the students actually engaged
in cheating. The other half completed
the
test
without
any
misconduct
occurring. Regardless of factual
guilt or innocence, and without yet
knowing which of the participants had
actually cheated, all of the participants
were offered a bargain in return for
confessing to the alleged offense. If
the
student
admitted
they would lose
to
cheating,
their compensation
for participating in the study. This
was viewed as akin to probation or
time served. The participant was also
informed that if they refused the deal,
the matter would be referred to an
" Academic Review Board. " This board
was described to the participants in a
manner that made it sound very similar
to a criminal jury trial, including the
right to present evidence and testify.
If convicted before the board, the
participants were told that they would
lose their compensation, their faculty
adviser would be notified, and they
would be required to attend an ethics
course.
This ethics course was viewed as a loss of
time, akin to a period of incarceration.
While this scenario did not perfectly
recreate
the
actual
criminal
justice
system, the anxieties experienced by
participants were similar to, though
presumably not as intense as, those
experienced by people facing criminal
charges. Further, this research advanced
our understanding of defendant
decision-making in ways that earlier
studies utilizing only hypothetical
scenarios could not.8
The study found that 89 percent of the guilty
participants took the plea offer. With regard to
the innocents, 56 percent of the participants
were willing to falsely confess to an offense they
had not committed in return for the benefits of
the bargain. Not only did these findings bring
greater insight into the phenomenon of false
pleas of guilty, but this study also demonstrated
30 For The Defense l Vol. 6, Issue 2
that the Supreme Court's assumptions regarding
the reliability of pleas of guilty were not
supported by scientific study.
Our initial findings from the 2013 study have
now been validated in several subsequent
studies by other labs.9
In one such inquiry,
researchers were able to delve more deeply into
the issue of whether the presence of counsel
assists in minimizing the risks of false pleas by
the innocent. In 2018, Dr. Kelsey Henderson
and Dr. Lora Levett published a study using
the research paradigm from our 2013 work to
test the influence of advocate participation
during the defendant decision-making process.
The research found that the effect of advocate
recommendations on plea-decisions was
significant.
In
the
Henderson-Levett
study,
where no advocate participated, the study
participants falsely pleaded guilty 35 percent
of the time. Where an advocate participated
and recommended proceeding to trial, the false
plea rate dropped to 4 percent. Importantly,
however, where an advocate participated
and provided
only
educational
information
regarding the available options, 47 percent of
the study participants went on to falsely plead
guilty. Where an advocate participated and
recommended pleading guilty, 58 percent of
the study participants went on to falsely plead
guilty. In each scenario, therefore, other than
when counsel
recommended proceeding
to
trial, the presence of counsel lead to a higher
number of false pleas than if there had been no
advocate.
In a study published in 2018, Dr. Edkins and I
once again explored the rates at which innocent
defendants might falsely plead guilty.10
Participants in this study were asked to review a
number of plea scenarios. In each case, the study
was designed to test the influence of various
factors, such as innocence, pretrial detention,
and the collateral consequences that would
emanate from a conviction. The study findings
revealed once again that innocents are willing
to falsely plead guilty. In addition, the study
demonstrated the power of the sentencing
benefits often accompanying pleas of guilty
and the coercive effect of pre-trial detention
on one's ability to make a voluntary decision
whether to plead guilty or proceed to trial.
First,
the
study
found
participants
assigned to both the factually guilty
and factually innocent conditions
electing to plead guilty, thus once again

For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

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