Some people are pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit because prosecutors promise leniency, a group of researchers reports.
Pleading guilty to avoid further incarceration might be the best option for some criminal defendants — guilty or not — especially considering the promise of freedom, seeing their children or taking care of sick family members, said the report in The Conversation.
In the United States, more than 94% of criminal convictions came from guilty pleas and not jury verdicts, an Aug. 2 story reported.
Prosecutors often have the upper hand on the bargaining table and will entice criminal defendants with lower sentences — with the threat of penalizing them with harsher sentences if they’re found guilty at trial.
“Given the lack of reliable data, it is extremely difficult to estimate what proportion of pleas are from innocent defendants,” said the article. “However, many researchers believe the proportion is significant.”
“A lot of people plead guilty just to get out,” said San Quentin resident Marcus Butler. He reported that in a jail where he was held, people “were accepting whatever they offer just to go home right now.”
COVID-19 shutdowns abruptly impacted everyone within the criminal justice system. Courts continue struggling to get back in line with time constraints and pre-pandemic standards. The Conversation examined some of the causative effects across multiple demographics.
Studies cited by The Conversation confirmed that the larger the sentence gap between the plea offer and the potential trial sentence, the higher the likelihood for defendants to plead guilty.
Another SQ resident, Olegario, said, “Because of COVID-19, I was taken from being close to my family in Southern California and allegedly transferred to this facility for my own protection.
“I can no longer see my loved ones and it causes me a lot of fear and anxiety.
“Coercion is a big factor. In the past a lot of us pled guilty, not realizing the effect it would have on our lives in the future.”
The Conversation is a non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. The article was written by Shi Yan, Arizona State University; David M. Zimmerman, Missouri State University; Kelly T. Sutherland, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Miko M. Wilford, University of Massachusetts Lowell.