A recent paper now circulating on SSRN, The Innocent Defendant’s Dilemma: An Innovative Empirical Study of Plea Bargaining’s Innocence Problem, intrigues for an array of reasons. The subject matter--defendants' willingness to plead to offenses they did not commit incident to a plea bargain--certainly provokes. Also notable is the research design employed. The researchers, Lucian Dervan (S. Ill.) and Vanessa Edkins (psychology, Florida Tech.), constructed an experiment in which college students actually felt they were "accused of cheating and presented with her own incentives to admit wrongdoing and save the university the time and expense of proceeding before a disciplinary review board." The study involved "dozens of college students, and taking place over several months ... revealed that plea bargaining’s innocence problem is not isolated to an obscure and rare set of cases." Finally, insofar as this experiment involved human subjects, that the researchers managed to get their research project through IRB struck me as something of a minor miracle. An excerpted abstract follows.
"Strikingly, the authors’ study found that over half of the participants were willing to falsely admit guilt in return for a perceived benefit. This finding not only brings finality to the long-standing debate regarding the possible extent of plea bargaining’s innocence problem, but also ignites a fundamental constitutional question regarding an institution the Supreme Court reluctantly approved of in 1970 in return for an assurance it would not be used to induce innocent defendants to falsely admit guilt."