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Why a Larger Number of Innocent Defendants Choose to Plead Guilty

March 31, 2016 | Written by Dan Margolis

In a court of law, a person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. However, in Ohio and around the country, there has been an increase in the number of innocent people choosing to plead guilty to the crime they have been charged with. This complicates the ability of these people to find justice.

The rise in the number of guilty pleas by innocent defendants began in the late 20th century with the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes, according to The New York Review of Books. These changes led to a reduction in the number of cases that actually made it to the courtroom for a jury trial. In 2013, the rate of criminal cases that appeared in a courtroom was under 3 percent, compared to 19 percent in 1980. In cases involving murder or rape, the Innocence Project has proven the innocence of about 300 people. The rate of people who pleaded guilty was 10 percent.

There are many reasons that a person may choose to plead guilty despite being innocent of the crime, according to the Innocence Project. One of the reasons, is the lighter sentence associated with a plea bargain. Together, with the temptation of a reduced sentence, many defendants feel pressured to take the plea bargain while it is on the table. They may also feel that the case against them is stronger than it really is. Additionally, a court trial can take a long time, with no assurance of a “not guilty” verdict, especially if the defendant has limited resources with which to prove his or her case. Often, it appears more logical simply to take the deal and serve the time than go to court.

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