Tag: prosecutorial discretion

Why Innocent People Plead Guilty

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York, who was both a federal prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer before becoming a federal judge, recently gave a talk at the University of Southern California law school on why innocent people plead guilty.

“We have hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of innocent people who are in prison, right now, for crimes they never committed because they were coerced into pleading guilty. There’s got to be a way to limit this.”

In a nutshell, the reasons many innocent people plead guilty are too much prosecutorial power (in charging decisions and plea agreements) and mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

“People accused of crimes are often offered five years by prosecutors or face 20 to 30 years if they go to trial. … The prosecutor has the information, he has all the chips … and the defense lawyer has very, very little to work with. So it’s a system of prosecutor power and prosecutor discretion. I saw it in real life [as a criminal defense attorney], and I also know it in my work as a judge today.”

The solutions, according to Judge Rakoff: Reduce prosecutorial discretion and eliminate mandatory minimums. I couldn't agree more.

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