ASU research finds likely increase in false guilty pleas during pandemic

Jul 14, 2021, 4:45 AM
(Pexels photo)...
(Pexels photo)
(Pexels photo)

PHOENIX — An Arizona State University simulation found more people in the criminal justice system would take a plea deal to avoid time in jail and possible exposure to COVID-19 – whether they were guilty of a crime or not.

“It shows, in the short-term, the threat of COVID-19 as we can see today is not going away right now,” Shi Yan, assistant professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, said.

The simulation was conducted with just over 700 people that were recruited online. The subjects were selected at random to be either guilty or innocent of theft and offered a plea deal of six months of probation compared to nine months in jail if they were convicted in a trial.

Those who “plead guilty” could go home in two days. Those who didn’t would remain in jail while waiting for trial.

Half of the subjects also received information that there was a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail, which was an issue nationwide during the pandemic.

More than a half-million people living and working in prisons got sick from COVID-19 and nearly 3,000 prisoners and staff died, according to data tracked over the past 15 months by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.

It was found by Yan and his colleagues that 56% of the “innocent” subjects who were informed about the virus presence in the jail plead guilty, while 44% of the “innocent” subjects who did not receive the information still took the plea offer.

His research paper, “Innocence in the Shadow of COVID-19: Plea Decision Making During a Pandemic,” was published online in June in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

Yan says the pandemic only exacerbated what the Supreme Court calls a “system of pleas,” as defendants waive their rights to due process and speedy trials.

“It is hard for practitioners — both the prosecution and the defense — to differentiate who is factually guilty and who is factually innocent,” he said.

Yan said that perhaps a public health approach could help the plea offer system in the short-term.

“Like providing vaccines for defendants and correctional officers, as well as reducing the overall occupancy of jails,” Yan said.

Long-term, he calls for plea deal reform that could include record-keeping between initial offers and sentencing to prove that defendants get fair treatment and due process.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Cronkite News File Photo/Hope O’Brien)...
Morgan Fischer | Cronkite News

Arizona near bottom of K-12 student spending list for 2020, Census says

Arizona was again among the worst states in the nation for per pupil spending on K-12 education in 2020, and advocates aren't surprised.
9 hours ago
Marnee Spierer (Cancer Treatment Centers of America Photo)...
Taylor Kinnerup

Valley oncologist opts for double mastectomy to avoid family history of cancer

May is National Women's Health Month and one Valley oncologist opted for a double mastectomy as a way to minimize her risk of breast cancer and take control of her health.
9 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Taylor Tasler

Arizona schools chief Hoffman concerned about staffing next fall amid teacher shortage

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Monday she’s worried there won’t be enough teachers for next school year amid a shortage.
9 hours ago
(City of Glendale Rendering)...
Balin Overstolz-McNair

New resort in Glendale’s Westgate area won’t be issue for water supply, city says

A new water resort coming to the Westgate area in Glendale won't be an issue for water supply as it will use less than the current agricultural land it is being built on, the city said.
9 hours ago
(Pexels Photo)...

Phoenix-area weather expected to take leap to 106 degrees this week

Just in time for Heat Awareness Week, the mercury is climbing in metro Phoenix and could reach 106 degrees late in the week, weather watchers said.
9 hours ago
(Arizona Humane Society Photo)...
Danny Shapiro

Arizona Humane Society rescues pig and chihuahua duo named Timon and Pumbaa

The Arizona Humane Society has rescued an unlikely pair of best buddies that won't be separated any time soon.
9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
By Dr. Richard Carmona

Now’s a great time to receive your COVID-19 vaccine

If you haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine yet, now’s the time to join many other of your fellow Arizonans who are doing so right now. No one will criticize you; there is no shame. In fact, you’ll be welcomed with smiles and open arms!

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to in April

April brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Suns and Diamondbacks.
ASU research finds likely increase in false guilty pleas during pandemic