Putting all of your eggs in one basket and hoping you will be cleared of all charges might be nerve-wracking whether this is your first time facing criminal charges or if you are innocent but face a serious penalty. The help of a criminal defense attorney can allay your fears and help you explore what legal options may be within your reach, even if it is a plea deal.
In the U.S., wrongful convictions have stripped many people of their freedom, so if you have been charged and are facing a serious penalty, it is understandable why a person would take a plea bargain even if they are innocent. However, the prevalence of plea bargaining sometimes has more to do with efficiency than guilt.
Criminal charges can feel like the end of the road, while a plea bargain can feel like a second chance with the right legal support. This article will dive into the specifics behind the choice to accept a plea, focusing on the history of wrongful convictions and exploring the many reasons why a person may take this route.
The History of Innocent People Receiving Jail Time in the U.S.
Reports from the Prison Policy Initiative state that there are roughly 1.9 million people in prison or jail as of 2023, including legally innocent people awaiting a pre-trial. In the U.S., the history of innocent people facing incarceration largely includes communities of color and continues to grow due to biased juries, coerced confessions, faulty forensics, and combative policing.
At times, the criminal justice system can be unfair, as shown by the following statistics:
- 47% of exonerated persons are African American, even though they make up only 13% of the U.S. population.
- There are only 95 Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) operating to date that have helped to secure over 50% of exonerations since 2021.
- The National Registry of Exonerations reported that the largest number of exonerations in 2018 was from cases in which government officials showed misconduct.
There are many reasons why innocent people end up entangled in the prison system. The presence of defective frameworks like mandatory minimum sentencing and underfunded public defenders adds to the reasons why an innocent person may be forced to accept a plea.
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Is Taking a Plea Deal the Same as Pleading Guilty?
Although a plea deal entails a defendant agreeing to admit guilt to one or more charges in exchange for the prosecution making certain concessions, it is still different from pleading guilty.
A defendant who enters a guilty plea forfeits their right to a trial and admits the allegations brought against them. Unless the defendant successfully argues for a more lenient penalty at the sentencing phase, this usually results in a conviction and a sentence.
In contrast, a plea bargain is a settlement reached by the defense and the prosecution in which the accused consents to admitting guilt to one or more offenses in return for some form of advantage. This could take the form of a lighter punishment, a lesser charge, or the dropping of additional accusations.
It’s crucial to remember that accepting a plea agreement is a significant choice that shouldn’t be made hastily. Before accepting a plea bargain, a defendant should speak with an accomplished criminal defense lawyer who can inform them of the possible repercussions and assist them in making a decision.
What Reasons Would an Innocent Person Have For Accepting a Plea Offer?
The criminal legal system contains several incentives that contradict the truth, including arrest quotas and crime labs compensated by conviction rather than forensic tests. So when you think about it, an innocent person choosing to take a plea deal isn’t the most illogical thing. One may feel inclined to take a plea deal for the following reasons:
Prosecutors Have Power
Prosecutors frequently have tremendous negotiating power and may scare a defendant with a heavier penalty if they decide to go to trial and are found guilty. Even if a person is innocent, they can believe it is not worth it to risk getting a harsher penalty after a trial.
Most People Have Financial Limitations
Attending a trial can be quite expensive, and many defendants simply do not have the funds to cover the cost of a lawyer and other related expenses. Therefore, you might believe accepting a plea deal is the more financially responsible course of action, even if you are innocent.
Coercion Tactics Work In Stressful Moments
In some circumstances, defendants may be coerced into accepting a plea deal by law enforcement personnel, who may utilize coercive tactics to get them to confess to a crime they did not commit.
There is a History of Injustice
Sadly, some innocent defendants may feel that the court system is biased against them and that they are unlikely to obtain a fair trial due to their lack of faith in the judicial system. In certain situations, some accept a plea bargain to reduce their chances of being wrongfully convicted at trial and face a harsher sentence.
The Need for Closure
Attending a criminal trial may be a protracted and emotionally taxing process. Innocent defendants might just want to put the case behind them and carry on with their life, even if they are convinced they will be exonerated at trial. Accepting a plea bargain may be a way to get closure while avoiding the anxiety and unpredictability of a trial.
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Additional Options After Accepting a Plea Deal
It can be challenging to move past the repercussions of accepting a plea bargain and admitting guilt to a crime one did not commit. But there are some actions that we can take as your attorney to perhaps make things right:
- File a motion to withdraw the plea: If the innocent party comes to the realization that accepting the plea offer was a mistake, they could be permitted to do so. With the assistance of a skilled criminal defense lawyer, this can be a challenging legal process that is worth exploring, even though it might not always be successful.
- Follow through with an appeal: If an innocent person was convicted after accepting a plea agreement, they might be able to challenge the ruling. This may be the only chance to reverse the conviction and clear their name, but it can be a time-consuming and expensive process.
- Seek an exoneration: An innocent individual may occasionally be able to ask for an exoneration, which is a formal declaration of innocence obtained through a judicial procedure. Depending on the jurisdiction, exonerations may be awarded by the governor, a judge, or a state board of pardons and paroles.
- Find you counseling or therapy: For an innocent person, accepting a plea bargain and accepting punishment for a crime they did not commit can be traumatic. It can be beneficial to get counseling or therapy to process these emotions and go on with one’s life.
You will always work directly with your attorney throughout your case.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Discuss Your Case Today
You need legal assistance right away if you’ve been accused of a crime. The sooner you retain legal counsel, the better educated you will be regarding your alternatives and legal rights. The lawyers at White Law PLLC will analyze your case and offer you advice based on your particular circumstances. You can book your free initial consultation by calling us or contacting us online.
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