Whose Fault?: Defendant Perceptions of Their Own Blameworthiness and Guilty Plea Decisions

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With the present paper, we seek to understand how defendants form of perceptions blameworthiness and to assess how these perceptions affect willingness to accept a plea offer. With an online vignette survey (N = 659), we randomized 1) guilt and 2) riskiness of victim behavior in a vehicular manslaughter case. We also asked respondents to rate the blameworthiness of themselves and their victims. First, results indicate that guilty respondents were more likely to accept a plea than those who were innocent. Second, those in the low-risk victim behavior condition viewed themselves as more blameworthy. Third, people who view themselves as more blameworthy, or their victims as less blameworthy, are more likely to take a plea offer. Lastly, the effects of guilt, victim behavior, and perceptions of victim blameworthiness are also at least partially mediated by perceptions of self-blame. Overall, victim behavior was a key predictor of self-blameworthiness, which was then a critical predictor of WTAP. Results also suggest that respondents viewed blame as a zero-sum game and made decisions about whether to accept a plea based on whether they think they were at fault in the situation.