Plea Bargaining with Wrong Reasons: Coercive Plea-Offers and Responding to the Wrong Kind of Reason

Benjamin Newman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The notion of a defendant submitting a false guilty plea due to the penal incentive offered is not an uncommon phenomenon. While the practice has been legitimised based on the defendant’s voluntary informed consent, it has often been argued that the structure of the plea-bargaining practice is coercive. Such can be the case whenever the plea offer entails a significant sentence differential, discrepancy in the form of punishment (a non-custodial sentence relative to a custodial one), or when the alternative of pleading guilty includes the risk of capital punishment. Having said that, plea-bargains have often been classified as a “non-coercive offer”, whether due to their advantageous mutual character according to a baseline conception of coercion or being an offer that one can overcome according to an irresistible psychological account. While many scholars have struggled with the ambiguous notion of “coercive offers,” the paper offers an alternative approach, arguing that it is the type of reasons to be considered within the offer that renders the bargain less than fully autonomous. It will be argued that the plea-bargain proposition infuses irrelevant (guilt-uncorrelated) penal considerations unrelated to the question of guilt. Such considerations are the wrong kind of reason for the guilty-plea decision, and due to the defendant’s dependency on the plea offer, they distort the defendant’s intentional character of her autonomous decision. It is part of the conception of the guilty plea. Though a defendant may autonomously intend to consider irrelevant penal considerations, such a decision cannot be genuinely considered a decision regarding the admission of guilt.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Coercion
  • Coercive offers
  • Imbalance of powers
  • Induced guilty-pleas
  • Plea-bargaining
  • Wrong kind of reasons


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