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Why Do Innocent People Plead Guilty?

Innocent Plead Guilty

Posted in Criminal Defense Illinois Criminal Defense Lawyer

Everyone would like to believe that those who plead guilty to a crime really are guilty, but, unfortunately, this is not true.  All too often innocent people are charged with crimes and plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.

For example, take the case of Marcellius Bradford, who served more than six years in an Illinois prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He pled guilty and testified against his co-defendants in exchange for a 12-year sentence. Then, in 2001, DNA testing not only showed Bradford and his three co-defendants were innocent, it also implicated the two men who actually committed the crime. Bradford said he pled guilty because he was threatened by prosecutors with a life sentence.

According to an article in the  New York Times Review of Books, at least 20,000 people are in prison for crimes they did not commit, and they have often pled guilty. Not only do they go to prison, but they wind up with a criminal record and all the stigma that goes with it – problems getting decent jobs and housing and bringing devastation to their families, even after they have served their time.

If you or a loved one were accused of a crime you didn’t commit and threatened with serious punishment, don’t plead guilty without seeking the best defense available.  The seasoned Illinois criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. have extensive experience and know that there are aspects of criminal charges that may lead to a dismissal. We offer a free consultation to examine the issues in your case and determine what we can do to help.

Here is a look at why innocent people plead guilty:

1)Prosecutors have all the power.

When it comes to plea bargaining, defendants can try to negotiate, but they have nothing to offer. The plea-bargaining process is often done without oversight to prevent prosecutorial abuse.  Defendants who do not accept the prosecutor’s offer are charged with the highest ‘provable’ offense and may face high mandatory sentences, so they plead guilty.

2) Defendants are afraid of going to a high-risk trial.

Facing trial creates a lot of pressure, and the fear is greatest when the charges are serious and the possible punishments are severe, such as in violent crimes or murder.

3) Public defenders are overworked and underpaid.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2007, about 73% of county public defender offices exceeded the maximum recommended limit of cases (150 felonies or 400 misdemeanors).  With case loads so excessive, they prefer to have the case finished quickly, so they try to get as many defendants to plead guilty as possible.  The choice becomes a guaranteed short sentence versus a potentially long one, and possibly life in prison, so defendants — often frightened, poor, and uneducated — take the plea.

4) Continuances cause more time in jail.

In Chicago, people are spending longer stints in jail (an average of 56 days for those in on drug charges). Part of the reason is the use of continuances by overworked public defenders.  Those who decide to fight their case are forced to stay in jail longer than those who plead guilty,

5) Field test results can be erroneous.

When a defendant is arrested for possession of a substance that could be drugs, police often have the substance undergo a field test. Field tests have a reputation for being imprecise and cannot be used as evidence in trials.  These tests have misidentified Jolly Ranchers, breath mints, oregano, and even air, as illegal drugs.  Errors lead to wrongful arrests, and defendants faced with positive test results are more likely to plead guilty.

A typical example was the Houston 2010 case of 33-year-old Sherri Frederick, arrested on a possession charge after police witnessed her dropping what appeared to be cocaine. The powder field-tested positive, so she pleaded guilty.  By the time accurate lab reports came back negative, she was already behind bars.

6) Early offers may be the best offers.

Sometimes, the earlier offers are the best you’re going to get, so defendants, especially those with prior convictions, may grab it before it gets to the grand jury.

7) Pleading guilty may lead to deferred adjudication.

Sometimes defendants plead guilty or nolo contendere (no-contest) in order to receive deferred adjudication. In this case, the court will not enter a judgment of guilt, but will lay out a number of conditions that the defendant must meet. If the defendant meets the conditions, the charges are dismissed and the defendant will not have a record of conviction.

However, if the defendant does not satisfy the conditions, the prosecutor does not have to put the defendant back on trial for the crime. The court will enter a judgment and determine a punishment, and the record will show a conviction.

Contact Us For Help

Anyone charged with a crime should seek legal assistance before pleading guilty to any charges, especially since it is more difficult to set aside a guilty plea than a conviction after trial. Once a person has admitted guilt and given details sufficient for the court to accept the plea, the chances of reversing such convictions are negligible.

The skilled Illinois criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. offer a free initial consultation.  We believe each case is unique with its own set of circumstances. We know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense.  We examine the facts, the individuals involved, and the evidence available, and work hand in hand with our clients throughout the criminal process. Our goal is always to minimize the negative impact of the situation and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties and rights.

Don’t delay — contact us at 630-305-0222 to schedule your free initial consultation if you have been accused of any criminal charges. We represent clients in DuPage County, Will County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, and the greater Chicagoland area.



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