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Below is the script for a study examining the impact of guilt status and COVID information on plea decision making.

> Key/Legend

To read these scripts and understand the meaning behind the formatting, here is a guide to how they are formatted.
  • Bolded text denotes areas where researchers might be particularly interested in making changes.
  • Italicized text denotes commentary as well as scene descriptions.
  • “@U” denotes the first name of the participant. This name is typically one entered through a form on the previous page.
  • “>>” denotes a pause at a specific point of text within the simulation and would require pressing the respective button in order to progress.
  • bullet points denotes text that appears on the screen in the dialogue box at a particular point in the simulation.

Upon finishing customization of their avatar on the avatar customization screen and pressing the “Next” button, the user will be presented with the theft/larceny scenario:

Theft/Larceny Scenario

The simulation begins with the participant’s avatar is shown walking across the mall toward and into a sunglasses store. The avatar points out to the salesclerk a pair of sunglasses in a locked cabinet. The salesclerk removes the glasses from the cabinet and hands them to the avatar, who walks toward a mirror away from the front desk to examine them more closely.

The screen then shows the avatar’s phone in what appears to be their back-pocket receiving a series of text messages as another customer approaches the salesclerk. The messages read: “Hey, where are you?,” “You’re gonna be late to the movie!!!,” “Previews are starting!!” as the avatar grabs the phone out of their pocket. The avatar turns their head towards the salesclerk talking with another customer and the screen then fades to black with the text appearing on the screen:

Two weeks later…

You are served a summons.

A document over an envelope then appears on the screen with some clearly shown text:

Summons to Appear in Court

After the document is presented, the participant’s avatar will appear in Court before a judge and a prosecutor.


  • Good afternoon, my name is Mr. Clark and I will be prosecuting this case on behalf of the State of Massachusetts, Your Honor. »


  • Good afternoon. What is the nature of this case, Mr. Clark? »

PROSECUTOR (talking to the district court judge):

  • @U is accused of committing larceny occurring around 12PM on the 3rd day of March in the year 2020. »

  • In accordance with state law, larceny occurs when one steals the property of another. »

  • According to the information provided in the police report, the defendant requested a pair of sunglasses in a locked case from the salesclerk. »

  • The salesclerk provided the sunglasses to the defendant who allegedly walked away with them in order to examine them in a mirror. »

  • Once the salesclerk’s attention was diverted to another customer, the defendant exited the store wearing the sunglasses. »

  • The salesclerk positively identified the defendant as the person who walked out of the store wearing the missing pair of sunglasses. »

  • There is also security footage provided by the owner of the shop where the theft occurred that shows the defendant walking toward the exit wearing the sunglasses. »

Grainy security footage shows the inside of the store from above the salesclerk’s perspective at a bird’s eye view. The avatar walks into the view of the camera, approaches the clerk’s desk, and engages the clerk in conversation. The avatar obtains a pair of sunglasses from the salesclerk and puts them on after the clerk removes them from a locked space under the desk. The avatar walks toward a mirror wearing the glasses, slides the glasses over their head, and then checks their phone. The avatar then walks out of the view of the camera still wearing the glasses, disappearing from the security footage.


  • The security footage shows @U wearing the missing pair of designer sunglasses and heading toward the store exit. »

  • Theft of these sunglasses is a clear larceny, which, given the value of these glasses is considered a felony offense punishable by imprisonment. »

  • We request a court date be set by the State as soon as it is possible.»


  • @U, you are being charged with larceny. »

  • You have the right to request the appointment of counsel if you cannot afford counsel; the right to not make a statement; and the right to a jury trial, judgment, and sentencing before a district judge. »

  • At this time, you will be held until counsel has been assigned to you, which will occur within the next 48 hours. »

  • It is so ordered.»

The avatar is shown to be in a jail cell, with their eyes closed, arms crossed, and appears to be thinking to themselves.


  • I know I remember the day Mr. Clark is talking about … »

The flashback sequence begins. Here, the simulation shows two different sequences depending on whether the participant is guilty or innocent.

If innocent:

A hand sets a pair of sunglasses down on a table and the participant-avatar is shown walking across the lobby of the mall, in the opposite direction of the store without sunglasses on their headn.

Back in the jail cell:


  • I couldn’t return the sunglasses to the salesclerk because he was helping another customer, but I did remember to leave them on the counter before I left the store. I know I’m innocent. Someone else must have swiped them!»

If guilty:

The avatar is shown walking across the lobby of the mall with the pair of sunglasses on their head, in the opposite direction of the store.

Back in the jail cell:


  • I know I forgot to take those sunglasses off before I left. I should have returned them…But, I was afraid they’d think I intended to steal them. I guess I’m guilty of this!»

The participant avatar appears in a room approaching the defense attorney who is already seated at a table.

The simulation shows the defense attorney in a room with a closed door behind him. With his greeting, it is implied that the participant is no longer in the jail cell and is in a private room.


  • Hello, @U I am your defense attorney, Mr. Grant. Mr. Clark, the prosecutor on your case is interested in seeing whether this case could be resolved without a trial. »

  • Based on the security camera footage and testimony from the salesclerk, Mr. Clark believes that he could win if this case goes to trial. »

  • If this case does go to trial, Mr. Clark will be seeking the maximum penalty of 9 months in jail. »

  • If you plead guilty now, saving the State the resources needed for a formal trial, Mr. Clark is prepared to recommend that the district court judge sentence you to 6 months of probation rather than 9 months in jail. »

  • If you reject the plea offer, because of your prior conviction, the prosecutor will push to have you held in jail to await your trial. »

  • This is called pre-trial detention. Pre-trial detentions can span weeks, or even months. »

  • So I would like you to take some time to think about this offer… »

Participants are directed to Qualtrics where they are asked to estimate the chances they would plead guilty (from 0 to 100%).

  • If you accept this plea offer, you will be asked to sign this form, which includes the recommendations for lower sentencing that I just described. »

  • Again, if you reject this plea offer and take your case to trial, Mr. Clark will pursue the maximum jail sentence of 9 months and will push to have you detained to await your trial. »

Here, the simulation could provide detailed information regarding the risk of COVID exposure (for those in the COVID information conditions).

If in the COVID information conditions):

  • I also want you to be aware of the additional complications posed by the coronavirus. »

  • Due to the pandemic, many court dates have been pushed back, which means, if you reject the plea, you will likely be held in jail for several weeks, or even months, longer than usual. »

  • Further, the jail is currently having an outbreak of coronavirus that has impacted several inmates. »

  • I myself have clients who have contracted coronavirus while in jail, and it has not been easy to get them the appropriate treatment while in the jail. »

  • If you take Mr. Clark’s offer and plead guilty, you can go home in a day or two; in the meantime, you would be returned to your holding cell. »

  • Ultimately, the decision to plead guilty or go to trial is up to you. »

  • Your signature will indicate your agreement to plead guilty and forgo your right to a trial. »

The defense attorney disappears from the screen and two buttons, as well as text in the dialogue box, roll out onto the screen. Participants will then be re-directed to Qualtrics where some of their survey questions will depend on the button they click. BUTTONS:

[Plead Guilty] / [Reject Offer]


Plead guilty in exchange for a lower sentence (6 months probation)

Reject the offer and risk a more severe sentence if found guilty at trial (9 months in jail)

The participant must click one of the buttons and respond with Plead or Reject in order to proceed to the post-simulation survey questions.

Copyright © 2021 The Plea Justice Project.