Article Regarding Jails and False Pleas of Guilty

Earlier this week, we announced the creation of the Plea Bargaining Institute. Today, we share a recent article from one of the members of the Plea Bargaining Institute's Advisory Board - Rodney Roberts. Mr. Roberts is an exoneree and re-entry coach with the Innocence Project. 

The article discusses Mr. Roberts' decision to falsely plead guilty to an offense he had not committed after being given only 25 minutes to make the life altering decision. 

From the piece:

When I was 24 years old, I was incarcerated in New Jersey’s Essex County jail for a crime I did not commit. For almost a year I was behind bars — charged but not convicted.

With no money to afford a private attorney, I relied on the counsel of public defenders. Then I was faced with a decision — the most consequential decision of my life — and one that I should never have had to make.

My attorney told me I could plead guilty to the crime I had been falsely accused of, kidnapping and sexual assault, in exchange for a seven-year prison sentence of which I would possibly end up serving just two years. Or I could fight to prove my innocence at trial and face the prospect of life in prison if I lost. . . .

I made my decision without being able to consult my family and in the time allotment my public defender gave me: 25 minutes. Because public defenders often have an overflowing docket of clients to see — at the time mine had maybe 70 to 80 cases — he had to move on to the dozens of other incarcerated people he was defending while I made this choice. It was like an assembly line. . . .

I sat there with tears in my eyes trying to use my best judgment. I accepted the plea agreement. Many people claim they would never, ever plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. I thought the same thing until my life was hanging in the balance.

For my guilty plea, I wound up spending 18 years in custody (including years after prison confined civilly by the state) before DNA evidence excluded me as a perpetrator and I was exonerated and released in 2014.

You can read the entire article here.


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