Are innocent people in New Hampshire pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit? A new report cited by Forbes claims that innocent people are pleading guilty all across the country. Why would anyone confess to a crime they did not commit? The problem lies in the way the American justice system is set up.
Everyone is entitled to a fair trial in theory, but in practice, not everyone gets one. Sometimes a case is so strong and public opinion is so against the defendant that pleading not guilty becomes a gamble with one’s life. Defendants can either take a guilty plea for a lighter sentence, or risk the harsh penalties that may come with a conviction after pleading not guilty.
So, how many people are pleading guilty? Forbes states that 97% of people who are accused plead guilty. How many of these people are actually innocent is hard to say, but it goes without saying that all 97% are unlikely to be guilty. Because of these, prosecutors are currently enjoying a high success rate. Yet, even with guilty pleas, many people receive harsh sentences. Defendants are also sometimes encouraged to take guilty pleas because the courts would be in chaos even if pleas dropped to just 90%.
The American Bar Association warns that no one can be forced to make a plea without the opportunity to retain counsel. Even when the defendant waives the right to counsel and enters their guilty plea, the court will consider it an informal admission until the defendant has some time to deliberate over the decision. The court also has a duty to address the defendant in open court and ensure that the person understand the effects of entering a guilty plea.
These stipulations certainly help to ensure that defendants are not forced into taking guilty pleas and that they do not walk into the situation blindly. Even so, it may be some time before solutions allow for truly innocent people to see trial as an opportunity to clear their name instead of a potentially deadly gamble with their future.