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