Racial Profiling In Action
The Courage of Ralph Adam Fine

Plea Bargaining: Freeing the Guilty and Convicting the Innocent

Norm's post below reminded me why I loathe plea bargaining.  Plea bargaining convicts the innocent and frees the guilty.

How does it free the guilty?  As Norm noted, his client was charged with rape and kidnapping.  These are very serious offenses, and if Norm's client had indeed committed these crimes, he should have spent a lot of time in prison.  He should not have walked home with a misdemeanor non-slap on the wrist. 

How does it convict the innocent?  It the prosecutor was willing to reduce rape and kidnapping charges to misdemeanor assault, what does that say about the prosecutor's case?  It sure seems like the prosecutor was not very confident that he could meet his constitutional obligation to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Given that I'm privy to the details of the case, it's my opinion the prosecutor could not have proved his case by a preponderance of the evidence.

Although Norm's client was innocent, he prudently pleaded guilty.  Then why would an innocent person plead guilty?  That's easy.

If Norm's client had gone to trial and lost, he would have been sent to prison for several years and placed on a sex offender registry for the rest of his life.  If Norm's client had won, what would have have gained?  Nothing.

Sure, the client could have claimed he was vindicated, but that isn't worth the paper the jury's verdict is printing on.  Insiders will know that a misdemeanor plea to rape and kidnapping charges is vindication.  Outsiders will always say, even of an acquitted man, "Well, he must have gotten off on some technicality."

When it comes to plea bargaining, an innocent defendant has nothing to gain and everything to lose.  It's a disgusting part of criminal justice system that leads to more wrongful convictions than any crooked cop or incompetently-run crime laboratory.