Voluntary, Knowing and Intelligent Pleas

Voluntary, Knowing and Intelligent Pleas: Understanding the Plea Inquiry

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Network on Community Mandated Treatment, Professor John Monahan

Co-Researchers: Alicia Summers

When defendants plead guilty, they are asked a series of questions (the plea inquiry) in open court to ascertain whether pleas are made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. There is a wealth of research on adjudicative competence, but little to none on the plea inquiry. Whereas competence is relevant to whether one has the ability to make knowing, intelligent, and voluntary decisions, the plea inquiry is relevant to whether one actually made such a decision. In the present study, 99 adult defendants who just plead guilty were interviewed and tested about aspects of the plea process. We found that whereas almost all defendants had little or no adjudicative competence deficits and claimed to have made a knowing plea decision, plea comprehension was generally poor.