January, 1999

We cruelly abuse those convicted of crimes. Some who are convicted protest their innocence. Some of these are later found to have been telling the truth. Others plead guilty in plea bargains despite being innocent. This eases our consciences, but does not necessarily promote justice.

This is from You Are Going to Prison by Jim Hogshire:

“The plea bargain is what keeps the courts going at all. Without them, the ‘justice system’ would jam up in one day. There is no way that each person charged with a crime in the U.S. could have even one minute of court time if the majority of people accused of something didn’t agree on a ‘plea bargain.’ In exchange for a reduced punishment the accused agrees to help the state save money and time on due process.

“That way the prosecutor gets to chalk up another in the ‘win’ column and you don’t suffer as much. Even if you are innocent, a plea bargain is something to consider – especially if it keeps you out of jail. And that – not justice – is the goal here.”

And the following is from A Question of Innocence by Lawrence D. Spiegel. Spiegel would like to see the innocent avoid plea bargains, but is aware that they are often unable to do so. He is discussing specifically those falsely accused of assaulting children.

“The innocent often fall prey to the waiting hands of the Prosecutor and plead guilty to a lesser charge, just to put an end to the ordeal and to the separation from a child.

“Prosecutors, as a result of over-zealousness to protect the child, blind ambition to further a career or a number of other reasons, will do ‘strange’ things for a conviction. It is always to the Prosecutor’s benefit to get a guilty plea, even to a lesser charge. Sometimes the Prosecutor will wait until the accused is emotionally and financially drained, then the plea bargain offer is made . . . .

“Some falsely accused are so battered and beaten, they accept the humiliation and anger and take the deal. Often this occurs with the consent of the victim’s attorney . . . . The stigma of the bargain will remain forever.”

The following is from an article by Spiegel in the Forensic Examiner March-April, 1998.

“Many of us are convinced that when individual rights are enforced and someone is released from custody as a result, they are always ‘getting off on a technicality.’ But as Justice Brennan warned some years ago, ‘the Constitution of the United States is not a technicality (Prieser et. al. 1973).’

“Yet the public perception of the system seems to bear little resemblance to the reality. In contrast, the Justice Department tells a very different story. Less than one percent of those arrested and charged with a felony are likely to be released, as a result of a violation of rights. Unfortunately, it is this fraction of the cases which seem [sic] to get publicity. Fully 98% of felony arrests result in convictions, regardless of race or socio-economic class (Solari, 1993). The result of our tough stand, however, may simply mean more equal injustice for us all. We have more people incarcerated in this country than any other in the free world. The Justice Department Census for 1995, shows that approximately 5.5 million adults in this country are in prison, or on parole or probation, fully 2.8% of the population (Rossi, 1995).”

Does anyone actually believe that only two percent of those arrested for felonies are innocent? Anyone other than prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges I mean?

In colonial New Haven, 93% of trials led to verdicts of guilty on all counts. Lawrence M. Friedman cites these numbers on p. 25 of Crime and Punishment in American History, and is at pains to explain that these trials were not then perceived as jokes, since they were ceremonies of repentance and reintegration. Who will explain why today

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