Published: 16th March 2018
Lack of maturity makes teens plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit: Study
The researchers said teenagers should not be allowed to make deals where they face a lesser charge in return for pleading guilty
The inability of teenagers to make mature decisions make them more susceptible to pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit, a study has found. Researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK have called for major changes to the criminal justice system after finding innocent younger people are far more likely admit to offences, even when innocent, than adults.
According to the study, published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, young people are more likely to be enticed by these deals and take what they see as an advantageous offer even when they have done nothing wrong.
"It is important to ensure the people accused of crimes have the capacity and freedom to make sensible decisions about whether to plead guilty," said Rebecca Helm from the University of Exeter. "Where systems allow defendants to receive a reduced sentence or charge by pleading guilty they need to ensure that defendants are suitably developed to make such decisions and that they have the necessary levels of understanding, reasoning, and appreciation," Helm said.
For the study, 149 adolescents were recruited from high schools and middle schools, 200 students were recruited from Cornell University in the US, and 187 adults from across America. The participants were given the same hypothetical situation in which they were asked to indicate the decisions they would make if accused of a crime.
They were either asked to imagine they were guilty or not guilty of the crime and were told the approximate likelihood of conviction at trial and the reductions that could be gained by pleading guilty as opposed to being convicted at trial.
The study found that as people become older, those who are innocent are less likely to plead guilty. Innocent teenagers indicated that they would plead guilty in roughly one-third of cases, while innocent adults indicated that they would plead guilty in just 18 per cent of cases.
The researchers found that teenagers were significantly less influenced in their decision-making by whether they were guilty or innocent than adults were. The results also suggested that adolescents are making decisions that do not reflect their values and preferences, including those relating to admitting guilt when innocent, due to developmental immaturity.