Plea bargaining recommendations by criminal defense attorneys: evidence strength, potential sentence, and defendant preference

Behav Sci Law. 2007;25(4):573-85. doi: 10.1002/bsl.759.


Although most criminal cases are disposed of through the process of plea bargaining, little research has focused on this process, and that research has focused on two variables: probability of conviction and potential sentence. This study examined the plea bargaining process from the perspective of the criminal defense attorney and expands prior research by including a third variable: defendant preference regarding plea. Attorney participants (N = 186) responded to a survey containing a vignette presented in a 2 x 2 x 2 between-subjects design, in which there was systematic manipulation of the following three variables in the context of criminal litigation: likelihood of conviction based on the strength of evidence, defendant preference regarding plea, and potential sentence if convicted. All of these variables were considered important to criminal defense attorneys, and how these variables significantly interacted with each other is explained. We discuss these findings in light of past research and theory that suggested attorneys make plea recommendations according only to probability of conviction and potential sentence, and we discuss implications and directions for future research.

MeSH terms

  • Criminology / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lawyers*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Negotiating / methods*
  • Punishment*
  • United States