Skip to main content


Log in

The decision to provide discovery: an examination of policies and guilty pleas

  • Published:
Journal of Experimental Criminology Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Prosecutors’ decisions to provide discovery can have vast implications for defendants. When prosecutors do not provide exculpatory information in the context of trials, they place innocent defendants at risk for wrongful convictions (Brady v. Maryland, 1963). Open-file discovery policy, in which prosecutors broadly share evidence with the defense, is the leading reform to address the withholding of exculpatory evidence. A US Supreme Court decision, however, ruled prosecutors do not have to turn over one form of exculpatory evidence (i.e., impeachment evidence) in the context of guilty pleas (U.S. v. Ruiz, 2002). The present study investigated the impact of two discovery policies (open-file (OF) and the Ruiz Supreme Court decision (SC)) on mock prosecutor behaviors and decisions.


Participants playing the role of prosecutor were randomly assigned to one of four conditions (neither OF or SC, only OF, only SC, both OF and SC) and assembled a case against a defendant. In assembling the case, participants turned over discovery to the defense and had the opportunity to withhold four potentially exculpatory items.


Results revealed both discovery policies impacted mock prosecutor behavior: Participants in the OF conditions turned over significantly more discovery and significantly more exculpatory items than those not in the OF conditions. Conversely, participants in the SC conditions turned over significantly less discovery and significantly fewer exculpatory items than those not in the SC conditions, regardless of their decision to offer a plea or go to trial.


Our findings provide important empirical data for two prominent but nonetheless controversial, discovery policies.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Alkon, C. (2014). The right to defense discovery in plea bargaining fifty years after Brady v. Maryland. New York University Review Law & Social Change, 38, 407–422.

    Google Scholar 

  • Alvarez v. The City of Brownsville, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, No. 16–40772 (2018).

  • Bandes, S. (2006). Loyalty to one's convictions: the prosecutor and tunnel vision. Howard Law Journal, 49, 475–494.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bantz, P. (2013). Death row inmate's exoneration in North Carolina inspired change. North Carolina lawyers weekly. Retrieved from

  • Bazelon, E. (2012). The dark dangers of tunnel vision. Slate. Available at, _s_wrongful_conviction_why_do_police_and_prosecutors_continue.Html.

  • Bibas, S. (2004). Plea bargaining outside the shadow of trial. Harvard Law Review, 117, 2463–2547.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).

  • Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2010). Felony defendants in large urban counties, 2006 - statistical tables. Washington DC: US Department of Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burke, A. (2006). Neutralizing cognitive bias: An invitation to prosecutors. New York University Journal of Law & Liberty, 2, 512–530.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burke, A. S. (2007). Prosecutorial passion, cognitive bias, and plea bargaining. Marquette Law Review, 91, 183–211.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cahill, S. (2002). Unites States v. Ruiz: Are plea agreements conditioned on Brady waivers unconstitutional? Golden Gate University Law Review, 32, 1–43.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fox, B. P. (2013). An argument against open-file discovery in criminal cases. Notre Dame Law Review, 89, 425–450.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gershman, B. (1986). Why prosecutors misbehave. Criminal Law Bulletin, 22, 131–143.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gershman, B. (2007). Litigating Brady v. Maryland: Games prosecutors play. Case Western Reserve Law Review, 57, 531–565.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gershowitz, A. M., & Killinger, L. R. (2011). The state (never) rests: How excessive prosecutorial caseloads harm criminal defendants. Northwestern University Law Review, 105, 261–301.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kassin, S. M., & Wrightsman, L. (1983). The construction and validation of a juror bias scale. Journal of Research in Personality, 17, 423–442.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leo, R. A. (2017). The criminology of wrongful conviction: A decade later. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 33, 82–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lucas, J. W., Graif, C., & Lovaglia, M. J. (2006). Misconduct in the prosecution of severe crimes: Theory and experimental test. Social Psychology Quarterly, 69, 97–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McMunigal, K. C. (2007). Guilty pleas, Brady disclosure, and wrongful convictions. Case Western Reserve Law Review, 57, 651–670.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morton, M. (2014). Getting life: An innocent man’s 25-year journey from prison to peace. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Prosser, M. (2006). Reforming criminal discovery: Why old objections must yield to new realities. Wisconsin Law Review, 541–614.

  • Redlich, A. D., Bibas, S., Edkins, V. A., & Madon, S. (2017). The psychology of defendant plea decision making. American Psychologist, 72(4), 339–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ridolfi, K. M., & Possley, M. (2010). Preventable error: A report on prosecutorial misconduct in California 1997–2009. Santa Clara: Veritas Initiative, Northern California Innocence Project.

    Google Scholar 

  • Turner, J. I., & Redlich, A. D. (2016). Two models of pre-plea discovery in criminal cases: An empirical comparison. Washington & Lee Law Review, 73, 285–408.

    Google Scholar 

  • United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622. (2002).

  • West, E. (2010). Court findings of prosecutorial misconduct claims in post-conviction appeals and civil suites among the first 255 DNA exoneration cases. Innocence Project report.

  • White, K. (2016). Confessions of an ex-prosecutor. Reason. Retrieved from

  • Zottoli, T. M., Daftary-Kapur, T., Edkins, V. A., Redlich, A. D., King, C. M., Dervan, L. E., & Tahan, E. (in press). State of the states: advancing guilty plea research through a national survey of United States laws. Behavioral Sciences & the Law.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Samantha Luna.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(PDF 123 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Luna, S., Redlich, A.D. The decision to provide discovery: an examination of policies and guilty pleas. J Exp Criminol 17, 305–320 (2021).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: