Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Judge Rakoff on "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty"

Judge Jed Rakoff has published a very interesting piece in The New York Review of Books entitled "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty." I would encourage readers of this blog to take a look at this in-depth analysis of how we came to have a system in which 95%-97% of convictions are the result of a plea of guilt.

The opening paragraphs:

The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
...
In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.
...
It was not always so.
The entire article is available here.

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