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Plead Guilty, or not to Plead Guilty? The increase in people pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit

Posted by Seth Chazin | Nov 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

Over the last 30 years, the amount of people who have plead guilty to crimes for which they have later been exonerated has increased significantly. Many times, risking the chance of going to trial may result in more time in prison if convicted than pleading guilty.  

For example, someone who is arrested as a suspect for murder, though innocent, may plead guilty just so they can get out of jail in some set amount of time and avoid the risk of being convicted at trial and automatically be sentenced to an indeterminate term of life imprisonment.

According to data from the National Registry of Exonerations, since 1989, more than 300 of the 1.900 plus people who have been exonerated in the U.S. have pleaded guilty to a crime they did not commit.

Out of the 157 exonerations last year, 68 of them were cases in which a defendant pleaded guilty.  This is the highest total ever recorded.

As the penalties and risk of incarceration gets more severe, the percentage of those who decide to plead guilty increases. Critics say that the numbers of people who are pleading guilty prove that there is an overwhelmed criminal justice system.

Those who are exonerated after pleading guilty often have prior criminal records and come from poor backgrounds and are not well-educated.

When you go to trial, the outcome is in the hands of the jury. Nobody knows how it is going to turn out, so instead people often plead guilty to prevent uncertainty. The criminal justice system should avoid intimidating the innocent into waiving their constitutional rights to a jury trial and due process of law. Our justice system is intended to protect the innocent, yet when people fear that going to trial is an option that can't be considered, then our system needs to be seriously reevaluated.

For more: Why Innocent People Plead Guilty -USC 

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson