Pleading guilty when innocent: The underlying causes of false guilty pleas and guilty plea wrongful convictions in Australia

Ms Caitlin Nash1, Dr Rachel  Dioso-Villa1, Dr Louise  Porter1

1Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

While previous literature has noted the significant pressures criminal defendants can face to plead guilty, the occurrence of false guilty pleas and wrongful convictions following a guilty plea has received surprisingly little research attention, particularly within Australia. This study conducted 22 semi-structured interviews with legal professionals working within the Queensland criminal justice system, including private defence lawyers (n = 3), defence practitioners working with Legal Aid Queensland (n = 9), Crown prosecutors (n = 6), and Magistrates (n = 4).  Thematic analysis explored the processes and procedures involved in resolving a case by a guilty plea; the structural and organisational conditions that may increase the risk of guilty plea wrongful convictions; and the reasons why innocent persons may be pleading guilty. The study built upon previous research that examined the contributing causes of erroneous guilty plea convictions that were overturned on appeal. By interviewing those directly involved in resolving a case through a guilty plea, this study provides further insight into the context in which errors may occur to produce a guilty plea wrongful conviction, and the underlying organisational and structural features of the criminal justice system that contribute to this issue.


Caitlin is a PhD candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. Her research is on guilty plea wrongful convictions in Australia, focusing on the underlying structural and organisational features of the criminal justice system that may contribute to this issue.


Dec 09 2021