Why Do The Vast Majority Of Defendants Plead Guilty In Court?

Authors Avatar

The Criminal Justice Process

Why Do The Vast Majority Of Defendants Plead Guilty In Court?

  This essay will discuss with reference to research evidence, why the majority of defendants plead guilty in court.  Over 90% of defendants plead guilty in a magistrates’ court and approximately 70% plead guilty in a Crown Court.  (Ashworth, 1994).  However over 10% of people who plead guilty in the Crown Court declare that they are actually innocent.  (Cited in Sanders, 1997).  In Zander and Henderson’s (1993) study they discovered that 11% of defendants who pleaded guilty claimed they were innocent.  (Ashworth, 1994).  Differences have been found across geographical areas for several years, for example in the late 1980’s, 80% of defendants pleaded guilty in the Northern circuit compared to 50% in the South-East and 40% in London.  The reason for these differences has not been found.  (Ashworth,1994).  

  Sanders (1997) stated that in the United Kingdom ‘police and prosecution pre-trial practices are geared in large part to securing guilty pleas.’  (Cited in Sanders, 1997:1078).

Securing guilty pleas are vital to the criminal courts because they save valuable time and money.  For example, in a contested trail at the Crown Court the hearing usually takes about 10 hours, whereas it only takes approximately one hour if the plea is guilty.  Research from the Home Office has shown that the cost at a Crown Court for a contested trial is around £12,088, in contrast to just £1,400 for a case with a guilty plea.  (Sanders and Young, 2000).


  According to the rational choice theory, how a defendant pleads is dependant on two factors; how likely it is that they will be convicted, and the difference in penalty for a guilty plea and a not guilty plea.  A study by Hedderman and Moxan (1992) supports this theory.  They interviewed 282 defendants who had been convicted in Crown Court. They stated that a defendant’s choice to plead guilty was heavily based on the likelihood of acquittal and the advantages of a lighter sentence.  (Sanders and Young, 2000).

Join now!

  The researchers also highlighted the influence of legal advice when deciding how to plea.  Of all the defendants in the study who changed their plea to guilty, just one said it was entirely his own decision, the remainder said they had acted on the legal advice given to them.  (Sanders and Young, 2000).  The role of the defence lawyers is very important, as defendants are extremely reliant on them.  (Ashworth, 1994).  In Zander and Henderson’s (1993) survey it was revealed that many defendants are not given accurate legal advice until the day of their trail.  They discovered that ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay


A conclusion - perhaps drawing on Ashworth's essay - would enhance this essay. Overall, a good consideration of the key essays in this field. 4 Stars.