In the November 20, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books, Jed Rakoff, explores why innocent people plead guilty. Rakoff notes that before the Civil War, guilty pleas in the American Justice system were rare but in the present-day upwards of 97% of all cases are resolved in negotiated guilty pleas conducted in backrooms away from public scrutiny. The founding fathers intended for the jury trial to be the central guard against tyranny in the American Justice system and assumed that at least most cases would be resolved by a jury and not just 3%. However, because Prosecutors control what charges a Defendant will face before a jury trial which controls the range of sentencing, and Judges control the range of punishment after a jury trial, many innocent people seek negotiated guilty pleas with prosecutors to either minimize the possible range of punishment with a lesser charge or in response to the fear harsher sentencing by a Judge after trial if they reject a pre-trial guilty plea offer. Rakoff suggests that guidelines be developed that limit prosecutors’ ability to charge as they wish and prevent Judges from punishing Defendants who seek a jury trial and reject a prosecutor’s pre-trial plea offers. As DUI Defense lawyers, we see Judge’s punish Defendant’s that risk jury trials with as much as ten times the jail time of a pre-trial plea so they can efficiently move their calendar. That is just planned old coercion. It hardly seems fair.
-Author: George Creal