Legal professionals’ perceptions of juvenile engagement in the plea process.

Criminal and juvenile court cases are often resolved through plea bargaining. Although the courts have decreed that plea decisions must be made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, little is known about legal professionals’ broader perceptions of defendants’ engagement in the plea process; in other words, professionals’ views of whether defendants understand, attend to, and participate in the plea process. Perceptions of juvenile defendants are of particular interest, given that they are especially vulnerable to poor understanding and often participate minimally in their legal cases. The current research surveyed legal professionals about their perceptions of juvenile defendants’ engagement in the plea process and examined whether perceptions differed by legal roles (prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge). We defined engagement as juveniles’ legal understanding of and participation in the plea process. Overall, professionals viewed juvenile defendants as moderately engaged, although defense attorneys viewed juveniles as significantly less engaged than did judges and prosecutors. Given that research suggests juveniles are indeed less engaged than are their adult counterparts, improved methods of enhancing engagement in the plea process are needed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)