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Attorney Advice (Study 1)

Below is the script for a study examining the impact of guilt status and defense attorney recommendation 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.

Theft/Larceny Scenario

The simulation opens with a black background and the following white text on the screen:

At 12 PM

November 3rd

An incident occurs.

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 seems like 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 the 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 text that is clearly shown on it:

Summons to Appear in Court

After the document is presented, the participant’s avatar will appear in Court before a judge and a prosecutor (the Courtroom backgrounds, as well as the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge avatar will remain the same as in the hit-and-run scenario).


  • 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 November in the year 2018. »

  • 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 turns around appearing to be talking to the salesclerk. The avatar obtains a pair of sunglasses from the salesclerk and puts it on after the clerk grabs the pair of glasses from under the desk. The avatar walks away from the desk to another table, slides the glasses over their head, and then checks their phone. The avatar then walks out beyond the view of the camera, 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 avatar is guilty or innocent.

If innocent:

A hand sets a pair of sunglasses down on a table and it is shown that the avatar walks across the lobby of the mall, in the opposite direction they arrived from the beginning of the simulation.

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 down the lobby of the mall with a pair of sunglasses on their head, in the opposite direction they arrived from the beginning of the simulation.

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 12 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 1 month of jail rather than 12 months in jail. »

  • 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. If you reject this plea offer and take your case to trial, Mr. Clark will pursue the maximum jail sentence of 12 months. »

  • Really, it boils down to this: you never know if the prosecutor will come back with another offer or what that offer will look like. Sure, they could always come back with a better offer. Or they could decide not to bargain with you anymore, come back with the same offer, or offer a less desirable plea deal than this one. It really could go in any direction. But this is your decision to make. But, I think you should [accept this offer / reject this offer]. »

  • 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. Awaiting the participant’s response of clicking one of the two buttons, the participant will be redirected to one of two corresponding Qualtrics surveys depending on their response to this situation.


[Plead Guilty] / [Reject Offer]


Plead guilty in exchange for a lower sentence (1 month in jail)

Reject the offer and risk a more severe sentence if found guilty at trial (12 months in jail)

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

Copyright © 2021 The Plea Justice Project.