News Release

Doctoral student studying coercion during plea negotiations

Grant and Award Announcement

George Mason University

Samantha Luna, Doctoral Student, Criminology, Law and Society, received funding for her dissertation on the subject of coercion during plea negotiations. 

Via this dissertation, Luna aims first to test a theoretical definition of coercion during plea negotiations that was developed by synthesizing philosophical, legal, and psychological theory, and second to examine third party evaluators' assessments of plea coercion claims.  

More specifically, Luna proposes two scientifically rigorous studies to answer four main research questions. Study 1 is an experimental plea negotiation study that will involve defendant participants (and confederate defense attorneys) negotiating with mock, confederate prosecutors in theoretically coercive and non-coercive situations. This study will address two research questions: (RQ1) How do theoretically coercive situations impact the plea decision-making of guilty and innocent defendants? and (RQ2) Do perceptions of coercion, fairness, evidence strength, and probability of conviction at trial mediate relations between theoretical coercion, defendant guilt, and defendant plea decisions?  

Study 2 will have participants either watch a recorded plea negotiation in its entirety or watch summarized oral arguments about a theoretically coercive or non-coercive plea negotiation. Participants will then evaluate defendants' post­ sentencing request to withdraw their plea. This study will address the last two research questions: (RQ3) How does the presence of theoretical coercion impact evaluators' assessments of a defendant's request to withdraw their plea post-sentencing? and (RQ4) Does the ability to view a recorded plea negotiation improve evaluators' assessments of plea coercion? 

Luna received $19,762 from the National Science Foundation for this project. Allison Redlich, Professor, Criminology, Law, and Society, is Luna’s dissertation advisor. Funding began in January 2022 and will end in January 2023. 


About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia's largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at


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