Negotiating justice: defendant perspectives of plea bargaining in American criminal courts

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Negotiating justice: defendant perspectives of plea bargaining in American criminal courts

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


This dissertation research focuses on adult, indigent defendant perceptions of plea bargaining and justice in American criminal courts. Data for this research was collected over a two year period of time in Hennepin County, Minneapolis, MN. This research relies on over 600 hours of court observations during which period of time I followed over 250 cases and interviewed forty indigent, criminal defendants. This research specifically addresses how defendants interpret their court experiences as fair--including defendant's ability to be involved in the decisions of their case, treatment by public defenders, and attitudes towards the practice of plea bargaining and the court system as a whole. Despite claims that procedural fairness matters to defendant perceptions of court, and to the extent that perceptions of outcome fairness rely in part on experiences with procedural fairness, this research shows that defendants are not overly concerned about the procedures of their case. Defendants do not expect to be involved in plea procedures and case processing, and they do not anticipate receiving outstanding representation by a public defender. Defendant perceptions of court experiences are based largely on perceptions of distributive justice and case outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, defendant decision-making rests on a limited understanding of the procedures and decisions that are involved in the criminal courts. Broadly speaking, defendants support court procedures such as plea bargaining because they feel that the procedure allows them to quickly exit an uncontrollable and confusing situation while receiving the benefit of a more lenient sentence.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2013. Major: Sociology. Advisors: Candace Kruttschnitt, Joshua Page. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 142 pages, appendices A-E.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Hussemann, Jeanette M.. (2013). Negotiating justice: defendant perspectives of plea bargaining in American criminal courts. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.