The Innocent Project Reveals Why So Many Innocent People Plead Guilty
Date:  01-25-2017

Prosecutors, incentives, threats of the death penalty, and poor legal advice all factor in as to why innocent people plead guilty
It’s hard to believe that the criminal justice system in the United States can be so flawed that innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, but it’s almost impossible to fathom that some of those innocent people actually agreed to plea bargains—reduced sentences in exchange for agreeing to a conviction. It makes no sense. Who would do that? Why?

Yet it happens. No one knows how often. Nearly 11% of the nation’s 349 DNA exonerations involve people who pleaded guilty to serious crimes they didn’t commit, and the National Registry of Exonerations has identified 345 cases of innocent people who pleaded guilty. When that many innocent people are agreeing to their own wrongful convictions, it is time to recognize that something is very wrong. The plea system is not a bargain, it’s a problem--at least for the innocent.

A system that forces or induces innocent people to plead guilty is unfair, unjust and runs counter to the Constitution’s guarantee of a right to a fair trial. Prosecutors who threaten scared youth with the death penalty; incentives that make a plea to something you didn’t do seem like a rational choice; defense lawyers who give terrible advice; and judges who fail to serve as a check on the truth all benefit from pleas which keep an overburdened system moving. And there’s little incentive for challenging the status quo. If every person charged with a crime demanded a trial, the system would be completely broken in a matter of hours. Our system relies on plea bargains.

Read more and watch videos of innocent people telling their stories here.