The Case of Brian Banks and Plea Bargaining's Innocence Problem

There has been much attention recently to the case of Brian Banks in California.  This is a fascinating example of the incentives created by sentencing differentials and the issue of plea bargaining's innocence problem.  Ten years ago, Banks faced a stark choice between proceeding to trial, which came with a probable sentence of 41 years to life in prison, or taking a plea deal, with a promised sentence of three years.  Like so many others and despite his innocence, Banks took the deal.

From NPR:

Five years in prison. Then five years of probation and wearing an electronic monitoring device. The shame of being a registered sex offender. Not being able to get a job. His dream of playing in the NFL destroyed, possibly forever. 
Brian Banks, now 26, has gone through all that.Then Thursday, the California man's rape conviction was dismissed.  
His accuser, who last year sent Banks a message on Facebook suggesting that they "let bygones be bygones," had been videotaped saying she lied about being raped. Wanetta Gibson's previous statements to police about the alleged 2002 incident had been the only evidence against Banks — there was no physical evidence that Banks had raped her. With the change in her story, prosecutors and a judge agreed, there was no case.Having his name cleared made for "the greatest day of my life," Banks told Southern California Public Radio's Patt Morrison. Not only does the conviction come off his record, but the electronic monitor comes off his ankle and he no longer has to register as a sex offender. 
The former high school football star, who once seemed to be on the way to playing for the University of Southern California, says he now wants to pursue that lifelong dream of playing in the NFL. 
Banks' story, which he's scheduled to talk about later today with All Things Considered, raises anew questions about the U.S. legal system. After his arrest, as KPCC reports, Banks' lawyer "urged him to plead no contest rather than risk a sentence of 41 years to life in prison if convicted."

Read the entire story from NPR and the All Things Considered Interview here.


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