Beyond the shadow-of-trial: Decision-making behind plea bargaining in Hong Kong

Kevin Kwok yin Cheng, Wing Hong Chui

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


A theoretical explanation of plea bargaining is the shadow-of-trial model (Mnookin and Kornhauser, 1979), which asserts that decision-making behind plea bargaining are based on the probability of conviction and sentence severity. Using the context of Hong Kong's criminal justice system, this study confirms previous studies that found the shadow-of-trial model overly simplistic. In-depth interviews with Hong Kong criminal defense lawyers revealed that while the probability of conviction and sentence severity are important, other salient factors, namely the costs of being caught up in the criminal justice system and the one-third sentence discount must be taken into account as well. Overall, the shadow-of-trial model is not a good explanatory model for why criminal defendants enter into plea bargaining.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-411
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Law, Crime and Justice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Criminal justice
  • Defense lawyers
  • Hong Kong
  • Plea bargaining
  • Shadow-of-trial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law

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