Alex Kozinski on Why Innocents Plead Guilty


On Friday, Radley Balko of the

Washington Post

blogged about a video interview with Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which was released last week by the Charles Koch Institute as part of its bipartisan effort to endorse criminal justice reform. Kozinski has become outspoken about the flaws within the American criminal justice system that are resulting in over- criminalization, inflated sentencing, and wrongful convictions. Earlier this year he released his paper “Criminal Law 2.0,” published in the

Georgetown Law Journal

, which outlined key myths that perpetuate a false sense of fairness in our country’s criminal justice system.

In one of the video segments featured on Balko’s blog, Judge Kozinski offers insight into what motivates innocent people to plead guilty to and confess to crimes they didn’t commit. He says:

. . . . [T]here are many reasons somebody may plead guilty, even though there may be doubts or even though they may be innocent. One of the principal reasons is that often there are very serious charges laid on by the government, and going to trial is so risky, that taking a plea on something that is much less seems the only rational choice. . . . There are also many cases where people are interrogated by the police for a very long time, and they end of giving confessions that turn out not to be true. There are dozens, scores of cases where people have spent decades in prison based on their own confessions and it turns out they were absolutely not guilty, DNA proves it, witnesses prove it, somebody else was out there. But the police managed to extract a confession. . . . [O}nce you confess to the police, any lawyer will tell you it’s very hard to persuade the jury that you are not guilty. So people may take a guilty plea in that situation just because they think they have no hope of being acquitted. . .

Watch the entire segment and other segments from the interview




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