Institut für Kriminologie

Nationwide Survey of Lay Judges

This study follows up on a previously conducted nationwide research project on Plea Bargaining in Criminal Cases which was funded by the Federal Ministry of Justice between 2018 and 2020. In this previous study, the IoC was part of an interdisciplinary research alliance which included research teams from the University of Düsseldorf (project head: Prof. Dr. Karsten Altenhain) and the University of Frankfurt/Main (project head: Prof. Dr. Matthias Jahn). The goal of this study was to investigate to what extent prosecutors, defense attorneys and criminal courts in general adhere to the legal requirements in the context of plea bargaining. A somewhat shocking finding of this survey was that about 20 percent of respondents stated to regularly become aware of so-called illegal plea bargains. More than 15% of respondents even said that they themselves were quite often involved in such illegal dealings. Due to these empirical findings, the Federal Ministry of Justice and Customer Protection publicly declared to consider the need for further legal regulations in this regard. In fact, the coalition agreement of the following “Ampel”-Government announced the provision of new legal regulations for plea bargaining in criminal cases.

In order to gain insights into the role of lay judges in the context of plea bargaining in criminal cases, this study set out to survey lay judges all over Germany. While lay judges do not have any legal training whatsoever, they have the same voting rights as professional judges, which is why it was important to also consider the lay judges’ position and experience with (illegal) plea bargaining.

Thanks to the strong support of Ministries of Justice from all the 16 Bundesländer and the German Association of Lay Judges (“Deutsche Vereinigung der Schöffinnen und Schöffen”), the IoC was able to conduct a nationwide online survey in which almost 9000 lay judges participated thereby making it the most extensive survey of lay judges in Germany so far.

The findings of this study (in German) have been published in May of 2023 both in print and as open access.

The results of the study confirm preexisting findings concerning a widespread practice of illegal plea bargaining. What is most problematic, however, is the fact that lay judges rarely possess the power to influence the outcome of a criminal trial to the degree that they should considering that their vote is equal to those of a professional judge. In fact, the role of lay judges often appears to be limited to those of “extras” rather than primary actors.

On the bright side, one very promising result of the survey points out that the clear majority of lay judges believes their position to be important. Even though the surveyed lay judges are primarily content with their occupation, they still pointed out numerous areas and ideas for improvement.

For more information, refer to the press statements of the University of Tübingen published on 17.12.2021  and 16.6.2023 .