In many jurisdictions, most convictions result from guilty pleas. This reality means that most convictions in these jurisdictions are reached not as the result of the decision-making of judges or juries but as the result of the decision-making of prosecutors (who often have discretion to offer incentives that can encourage defendants to plead guilty) and defendants (who must decide whether to plead guilty). These decisions can be psychologically complex and driven by a range of tactical and normative considerations. This article provides an overview of what we know about how prosecutors and defendants make decisions relating to guilty pleas, examines how modern psychological theory can help us understand these decisions better, and discusses directions for future research in this area. This future research will be important in more effectively evaluating the extent to which convictions obtained via guilty plea are consistent with normative legal goals.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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