Are Innocent Defendants Pleading Guilty?
The system is fairly rigged. Those who are appointed attorneys by the court are not necessarily getting bad lawyers, but they’re not going to have access to the same resources that prosecution has. The prosecution has a blank check to work with. They have medical experts testifying on their behalf, ballistics specialists, specialists who can identify particulates in the blood. There is no end to the parade of specialists which the prosecution can throw at the defendant.
The defendant then must be able to answer each charge with an expert of their own. These experts cost money. Hence how those with fewer resources end up doing time for crimes they may or may not have committed.
These individuals have only one reprieve: the plea bargain. But the plea bargain is not really a reprieve. It is actually a weapon. Typically, prosecutors in tandem with police will charge a defendant with a crime far in excess of what they believe the defendant has committed. Under the threat of doing 20 or 30 years in a maximum security prison, defendants will plead to a lesser charge which is usually whatever the police and prosecution suspect the defendant of being guilty of. That, however, doesn’t mean that they are guilty of that crime.
One high-profile study from Cornell University discusses the plea bargain in this context. Why are innocent defendants pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit? The answer is simple. They are under an intense threat. In capital murder cases, their very lives are being threatened. They cut a deal, the threat of death is off the table. They don’t, they’re rolling the dice with their lives. That’s the choice they’re being forced to make. Who can blame them for playing it safe?
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
A prisoner is faced with the following dilemma. The prisoner is being charged with a serious crime. Let’s say, second-degree murder. The prosecutor has charged the prisoner with first-degree murder but knows that they could never make that case in court. The prisoner’s defense attorney doesn’t know that. Nor does the prisoner’s defense attorney know what evidence the prosecution has on his client. The prosecution offers the prisoner a deal: manslaughter with intent to kill. That carries a 25-year maximum, but the prosecution offers 15 years with a chance of parole in 10. That sounds like an amazing deal, right?
Maybe it is. Maybe the prosecutor is in an especially generous mood. Maybe the prosecutor doesn’t have much to go on. Maybe the prosecutor thinks they have a 50% chance of proving manslaughter with intent based on the evidence. You really don’t know. The prisoner knows that there is a clock on the deal. They can either roll the dice before the jury and face life in prison or worse, or they can take the deal and hopefully get their life back in 10 years.
The pressure is enormous. The prosecution knows that and because trials are expensive, they play this card extensively. The pressure defendants into taking these deals under the threat of the forfeiture of the rest of their lives or death itself. And they take these deals because, whether they’re guilty or not, it is the most sensible option.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
The Skier Law Firm P.A. has defended those accused of DUI and those accused of murder. We’ve handled high profile trials and routine infractions. If you need a criminal defense attorney, call our firm at (561) 820-1508 or contact us online, and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.