Evaluating Racial and Ethnic Invariance Among the Correlates of Guilty Pleas: A Focus on the Effect of Court Legitimacy, Attorney Type, Satisfaction, and Plea-Offer Evaluation

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Objectives Research has identified racial and ethnic disparities in rates of guilty pleas relative to trial where minorities are more likely to proceed to trial, though little research has explored the source of this disparity.

Methods Using an adult nationwide sample and a vignette methodology, this research uses Ordinary Least Squares regression to explore differences in White, Black, and Hispanic defendants’ willingness to accept a guilty plea (WTAP).

Results Though there are not significant direct effects of race or ethnicity on initial WTAP, there are racial/ethnic differences in theoretical antecedents of WTAP such as perceived probability of conviction, court legitimacy, and attorney type. However, there are not differences in the effects of theoretical antecedents on WTAP across race or ethnicity. Significant differences by race/ethnicity also emerge following a defense attorney's evaluation of an offer and are conditional on guilt.

Conclusions Racial/ethnic differences in rates of plea acceptance are likely due to cumulative racial/ethnic differences in antecedents of WTAP, differences in the effect of attorney evaluation by race/ethnicity, and/or factors that were not directly examined in this study such as variation in plea offers. Implications for future research on the nexus between plea bargaining and race/ethnicity are discussed.