System Pressures the Innocent to Plead Guilty


In an opinion piece published on Friday in the

Washington Post

, Sam Gross—a law professor at the University of Michigan and the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations

writes that recent statistics and exonerations reveal that too many people are pleading guilty to crimes that they didn’t commit. According to Gross, a full range of flaws within the criminal justice system, including a lack of investment in justice, are to blame. “We can do better,” demands Gross.

He writes:

How many people are convicted of crimes they did not commit? Last year, a study I co-authored on the issue was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It shows that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are later shown to be innocent: 1 in 25. . . .

The problem may be worst at the low end of the spectrum, in misdemeanor courts where almost everybody pleads guilty. . . .

In the past year, 45 defendants were exonerated after pleading guilty to low-level drug crimes in Harris County, Tex. They were cleared months or years after conviction by lab tests that found no illegal drugs in the materials seized from them.

Why then did they plead guilty? As best we can tell, most were held in jail because they couldn’t make bail. When they were brought to court for the first time, they were given a take-it-or-leave-it, for-today-only offer: Plead guilty and get probation or weeks to months in jail. If they refused, they’d wait in jail for months, if not a year or more, before they got to trial, and risk additional years in prison if they were convicted. That’s a high price to pay for a chance to prove one’s innocence.

Police officers are supposed to be suspicious and proactive, to stop, question and arrest people who might have committed crimes, or who might be about to do so. Most officers are honest, and, I am sure, they are usually right. But “most” and “usually right” are not good enough for criminal convictions. Courts — judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sometime juries — are supposed to decide criminal cases. Instead, most misdemeanor courts outsource deciding guilt or innocence to the police. It’s cheaper, but you get what you pay for.

. . . It’ll cost money to achieve the quality of justice we claim to provide: to do more careful investigations, to take fewer quick guilty pleas and conduct more trials, and to make sure those trials are well done. But first we have to recognize that what we do now is not good enough.

Read the entire op-ed



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Lilia Robberts Robberts June 11, 2018 at 1:21 pm Reply   

My cousin has been convicted of a crime. He may or may not be guilty, but I still want to do all I can to make sure he gets treated fairly. It was interesting to learn that 1 in 25 people are innocent who are sentenced to death! Of course the crime he is convicted of is not as serious, but I want to look into getting him a criminal attorney to make sure things are done right.

Karen May 2, 2017 at 3:29 am Reply   

I was arrested for a DUI at 8AM in the morning while going to shop at the local Walmart. I was pulled over less than a mile from my house. I have really no idea why he decided to pull me over except maybe I couldn’t see him when I turned?! (Still don’t know) All I know is that the cop chased me..yes he chased me and I am trying to pull t the right to a safe area to park. He asked me if I was drinking, I said I don’t drink, he asked if I took drugs, I said I only take my prescription drugs ( should never tell a cop that) Told me to do a roadside test, I did, just to get out of there ( I questioned his ability to know what a true DUI was, bad idea!) Well he didn’t think I passed…long story short, 18 hours after jailed ( no water, no food, no sleep, no phone call, no working toilet, police driver was CRAZY ( scared was gonna die when he was driving) Strip searched, mug shot….

When I finally got out and 5 hours later my mailbox was full of letters from lawyers. I opted for getting my own even though I knew I was no longer going to be employed in a month. When I tried to plead innocent I was told I would have to come back to Florida for a trial. I had no money to fly down, to get a hotel room and the way my lawyer talked probably no chance of winning since even though I was legally taking the meds I was on, they could still get me for having them in my system. I was screwed no matter what, I pled guilty to something I didn’t do and still screwed 6 yrs later with this on my record. I have lost the chances of getting any good paying job. The warrant I have out on me is for them thinking I didn’t take the classes I was supposed to. I took them online, I was told whatever my state was allowing, they would allow. The probation officer said NO! so the classes I took and paid for are no good. Now I live in poverty and I can’t get a license til this is cleared up and I can’t afford to do this all over again. I just wish I could let that cop know he has ruined the rest of my life all because he wanted to show off or whatever. I was innocent, I am so hurt and depressed and have PTSD because of this and its been over 6 yrs. I will never ever forget!

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