Do Innocent People Plead Guilty?

November 17, 2015  |  crime, criminal, guilty, innocent, plea

      The general answer is no.  Individuals charged with a crime frequently negotiate a disposition of their case through a plea bargain.  The criminal justice system today functions essentially because of plea bargaining.  There are far too many criminal charges filed for each and every one to be tried to conclusion in the local courts.  

      Plea bargaining is the process by which the prosecution and an individual accused of a crime negotiate a resolution of a criminal charge short of an actual jury trial.  Usually, a plea bargain is negotiated to bring resolution to a criminal case without the expense and risk of a trial and to guarantee a sentence or to confine punishment in a sentencing range, inclusive of any potential fine, which is satisfactory to the client.

      That is not to say that in some cases an individual who professes innocence will nonetheless plead guilty to avoid a harsher sentence.  Forms of these pleas can be referred to as Alford pleas, or in some instances a plea of nolo contendere or “no contest”.  Generally, an individual who chooses to plead guilty, waves the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and makes a statement under oath to the court of the facts that make that person guilty of the crime charged.  In an Alford or no contest plea, the individual does not make a factual statement but the prosecution reads or summarizes a statement of the facts that it could prove if the case were tried.  The accused then simply acknowledges that the prosecution could prove those facts.  

      In state court, plea agreements should be in writing but such agreements can be informal, provided the terms of the agreement are stated on the record before the judge.  In federal court, typically, plea agreements are detailed and in writing.  Most of the local state courts in Kentucky will use forms that are on the Kentucky Courtnet website documenting a formal offer of a plea and documenting the defendant’s acceptance of the same.  The better practice is to have a written plea agreement and for the individual to be fully advised of their legal rights well in advance of any appearance before the court to enter a plea.

      There are roughly 2,000,000 individuals incarcerated in the United States.  The United States has approximately 5% of the world’s population but those incarcerated in the United States represent about 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.  A lot of this has resulted from mandatory minimum sentences and other similar “tough on crime” legislation.  The expense and delay associated with jury trials has encouraged the disposition of criminal cases by plea bargaining. 

      In drug cases, there are possible avenues to encourage an addict to seek treatment through a drug court program or through probation or other alternative disposition conditioned upon completion of a treatment program.    

      Should you or a loved one find yourself charged with a state or federal offense, our office can assist you in advising you regarding the potential penalties and negotiate, if that is your desire, a plea bargain favorable to you.

Authored by: Gary J. Sergent