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Law Hum Behav. 2005 Jun;29(3):253-77.

Legal decisions of preadolescent and adolescent defendants: predictors of confessions, pleas, communication with attorneys, and appeals.

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Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0308, USA.


While there is an increasing recognition that developmental differences may exist in legal decision-making, little research has examined this. This study examined the legal judgments of 152 defendants aged 11-17 (73 females, 79 males). Adolescents aged 15 and younger were more likely than older adolescents to confess and waive their right to counsel, and less likely to report that they would appeal their case or discuss disagreements with their attorneys. Also, while adolescents aged 15-17 were more likely to confess, plead guilty, and accept a plea bargain if they perceived that there was strong evidence against them, younger defendants' legal decisions were not predicted by the strength of evidence. Importantly, defendants with poor legal abilities were more likely to waive legal protections, such as the right to counsel and to appeal. Defendants from below-average socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to waive their interrogation rights, and defendants from ethnic minority groups were less likely to report that they would disclose information to their attorneys. The advice of attorneys, parents, and peers emerged as important predictors of plea decisions. None of the defendants reported that their parents advised them to assert the right to silence during police interrogation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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