According to the Office of the US Attorneys, “when the Government has a strong case, the Government may offer the defendant a plea deal to avoid trial and perhaps reduce his exposure to a more lengthy sentence.” Sounds logical, right? Except that plea bargains are often highly detrimental to defendants. Consider those who are innocent of their charges, but can’t afford their bail: in many cases these people opt to plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit so that they can move on with their lives more quickly — especially when the prosecuting attorney is threatening even more prison time if the case goes to trial. Research suggests that anywhere between 2 and 8 percent of people who pleaded guilty to felonies were actually innocent. Despite the fact that the US Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a speedy trial and a jury of their peers, trials are, in fact, rare: 94% of state-level and 97% of federal felony convictions arise from plea bargains.
“Most Criminal Cases End in Plea Bargains, Not Trials,” The Outline
“The Trial Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right to Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How to Save It,” The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (report)
“‘Not Guilty’ Remains a Rarity in Federal and State Courts,” The Dallas Morning News
“Innocence Is Irrelevant,” The Atlantic
“Why US Criminal Courts Are So Dependent on Plea Bargaining,” The Atlantic
“Plea Bargaining and the Innocent,” The Marshall Project
“Research Finds Evidence of Racial Bias in Plea Deals,” Equal Justice Initiative
“When Race Tips the Scales in Plea Bargaining,” The Marshall Project
“The Plea Bargain Myth,” Equal Justice USA
“‘Charged’ Explains How Prosecutors and Plea Bargains Drive Mass Incarceration,” NPR
Guilty Plea Problem: Have a plea bargain story of your own? Share it with Guilty Plea Problem, run by the Innocence Project.
The Innocence Project: According to the Innocence Project, the National Registry of Exonerations has identified 360 cases of innocent people taking a guilty plea. The Innocence Project works to reverse wrongful convictions.