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Influence of Eyewitness Memory Factors on Plea Bargaining Decisions by Prosecution and Defense Attorneys in California, 2010-2011 (ICPSR 32181) RSS

Principal Investigator(s):

Summary:

The purpose of the study was to assess how the strength of eyewitness evidence affects plea bargaining decisions by prosecutors and defense attorneys. Surveys were administered to 93 defense attorneys and 46 prosecutors from matched counties in California. On the questionnaire, each participant was asked four background questions and read four versions of a crime scenario in which two specific eyewitness factors -- (a) same- versus cross-race identification and (b) prior contact or not -- were experimentally manipulated in a factorial design. The scenarios described a store robbery in which identification by one eyewitness was the only evidence against the defendant. After reading each scenario, attorneys were asked to respond to five questions in light of the facts presented. The study contains 28 variables including background data on the study participants and responses to questions relating to four crime scenarios that differ in terms of the details of the eyewitness evidence.

Access Notes

  • One or more files in this study are not available for download due to special restrictions ; consult the restrictions note to learn more. You can apply online for access to the data. A login is required to apply for access.

    A downloadable version of data for this study is available however, certain identifying information in the downloadable version may have been masked or edited to protect respondent privacy. Additional data not included in the downloadable version are available in a restricted version of this data collection. For more information about the differences between the downloadable data and the restricted data for this study, please refer to the codebook notes section of the PDF codebook. Users interested in obtaining restricted data must complete and sign a Restricted Data Use Agreement, describe the research project and data protection plan, and obtain IRB approval or notice of exemption for their research.

Dataset(s)

Study Description

Citation

Pezdek, Kathy. Influence of Eyewitness Memory Factors on Plea Bargaining Decisions by Prosecution and Defense Attorneys in California, 2010-2011. ICPSR32181-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2012-07-31. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR32181.v1

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Funding

This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2009-IJ-CX-0019)
  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:   attorneys, evidence, eyewitness memory, identity, legal representation, plea negotiations, prosecuting attorneys, prosecution, public defenders, suspect identification, witnesses

Smallest Geographic Unit:   Anonymized county

Geographic Coverage:   California, United States

Time Period:  

  • 2010--2011

Date of Collection:  

  • 2010-02--2011-06

Unit of Observation:   individual

Universe:   All Deputy District Attorneys and Deputy Public Defenders in the state of California between February 2010 and June 2011.

Data Types:   survey data

Methodology

Study Purpose:   The purpose of the study was to assess how the strength of eyewitness evidence affects plea bargaining decisions by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Study Design:   Surveys were administered to 93 defense attorneys and 46 prosecutors from matched counties in California. On the questionnaire, each participant was asked four background questions and read four versions of a crime scenario (counterbalanced across participants for order of presentation) in which two specific eyewitness factors -- (a) same- versus cross-race identification and (b) prior contact or not -- were experimentally manipulated in a factorial design. Specifically, the study design was a two (prosecutor versus defense attorney) by two (familiar versus unfamiliar suspect) by two (same-race versus cross-race identification) mixed factor design with only the first factor varied between subjects. The scenarios described a store robbery in which identification by one eyewitness was the only evidence against the defendant. The four scenarios were identical except for the slight wording changes required to vary the familiarity condition (the eyewitness had seen the suspect previously or this was not mentioned) and the cross-race condition. After reading each scenario, attorneys were asked to respond to five questions in light of the facts presented. Participants were given the option to complete the test materials online or using hard copies; most used the hard copy option.

Sample:   This study utilized a convenience sample; the data were collected from county offices of the District Attorney and Public Defender in the state of California. Because the questionnaire included questions about sentencing, and sentencing guidelines vary by state in the United States, it was necessary to restrict data collection to one state. In the data collection phase, over a period of 18-months, email, telephone, and postal mail were used to contact repeatedly, the head District Attorney and Public Defender in each of the 58 counties in California, to request the participation of the Deputy District Attorneys and Deputy Public Defenders in their county. Only the data from counties in which there were completed test materials from both the offices of the District Attorney and the Public Defender were included in this study. This was done to match the two samples, at least in terms of the counties in which they served. These included 8 counties, contributing a total of 93 Deputy Public Defenders and 46 District Attorneys. Within each county, it was simply required that each participant had had felony trial experience.

Weight:   None.

Mode of Data Collection:   mail questionnaire, web-based survey

Data Source:

Surveys administered to prosecutors and defense attorneys in the state of California between February 2010 and June 2011.

Description of Variables:   The study contains 28 variables including background data on the study participants and responses to questions relating to four crime scenarios that differ in terms of the details of the eyewitness evidence. Background variables include attorney type (public defender or prosecutor), number of years as a trial attorney, number of cases tried, number of cases involving eyewitness cases, and percent of cases typically settled through plea bargaining. Variables from the crime scenarios measure whether the respondents would plea bargain the case, the lowest/highest plea bargain they would offer/accept, and their estimate of the probability that the defendant was guilty and the probability that they would win the case if it went to trial.

Response Rates:   Response rate information is not available.

Presence of Common Scales:   The data include variables that use a continuous response scale from 0 percent to 100 percent and variables that use a response scale of 7 potential plea bargain offers ranging from ?No plea? to ?One strike 5-years?.

Extent of Processing:  ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Standardized missing values.
  • Performed recodes and/or calculated derived variables.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.

Version(s)

Original ICPSR Release:  

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