There is a large body of research concerning factors related to eyewitness accuracy and on the influence of eyewitness evidence on juror judgments. However, this research largely ignores that approximately 90 percent of cases are resolved through plea bargaining.
Existing research on factors influencing attorneys' plea bargaining suggests decisions are driven by the strength of evidence against a defendant. Prosecutors offer a plea bargain when the evidence is weak and defense attorneys recommend a plea bargain when evidence is strong. It is possible that aspects of eyewitness identification evidence may influence attorneys' plea bargaining decisions. However, it is unclear whether attorneys are sensitive to variations in the quality of eyewitness evidence.
Research indicates attorneys report awareness about the influence of some witnessing factors on identification accuracy while demonstrating a lack of knowledge about the influence of other factors. In addition, defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys may have different levels of awareness of the relationships among different witnessing factors and identification accuracy. Thus, it is unclear how variations in eyewitness evidence strength will influence attorneys' actual behavior. In addition, it is not known how other legal factors (i.e., pretrial publicity, defendant's prior record) will interact with eyewitness evidence quality to influence attorneys' plea bargaining decisions.
This project consists of two studies to investigate factors that influence plea bargaining decisions. Study 1 explores whether prosecutors and defense attorneys are sensitive to variations in the quality of eyewitness evidence. Several factors related to eyewitness accuracy are manipulated. After reading a case summary, attorneys will rate their willingness to offer/recommend a plea bargain and their expectations about a jury verdict if the case were to go to trial. Study 2 manipulates the quality of eyewitness identification evidence and the presence of other legal factors that may influence plea bargaining behavior.