Michigan criminal defense attorneys know all too well that many defendants, regardless of their innocence or guilt, accept plea bargains (plea deal, agreement) offered by prosecutors. Why would anyone who is innocent ever agree to such a deal? Why not plead not guilty and go forward to trial? This is a question many people who have not been put in this position ponder, but unfortunately it’s a terrible truth. The fact is, our criminal justice (or injustice, as you may want to view it) is so unstable that those who are completely innocent could be found guilty at trial. If you were in this position, would you rather accept a plea deal that results in two years in prison, or go to trial knowing you could possibly face 10, 20 or even more years behind bars if for some inconceivable reason you were found guilty? Exactly.
Defendants in any criminal case are presumed innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, however often this is not the case. Jurors often form their own opinions based on emotions or feelings, rather than indisputable evidence. The fact is, among convicted felons between two and eight percent are innocent individuals who accepted plea agreements. It’s easy to assume many criminal cases go to trial, however the hard truth is that 94% of state convictions occur because the defendant accepted a plea deal, or in other words pleaded guilty to a lesser crime. Sure, some are guilty – but considering up to eight out of 100 who are convicted because they accepted plea deals, it’s easy to see there are many innocent folks serving time behind bars – not to mention the ruin of their careers, reputations, even relationships.
Why do those who are innocent ever agree to plead guilty? It’s simple, really. Most fear the worst possible outcome at trial. In other cases, going forward toward trial often means months or even years in jail awaiting trial, considering the delays and postponements. For most people, taking weeks or months off from work just isn’t feasible financially, and even when a case does eventually go to trial it could possible end in a hung jury, which in many cases means yet another trial. Think of those who have families, young children or teens, responsibility; waiting for an interminable length of time to go to trial and even then not knowing what the outcome could be is simply unimaginable.
While it shouldn’t be the case, countless defendants at trial are convicted on circumstantial evidence, not “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Is our criminal justice system broken? It seems so in many cases, and given the media presence, Internet, and social media some never have a chance from the very beginning. It’s a sad time we live in when innocent people are tried and convicted before they ever even reach the criminal process and have an opportunity to prove their innocence. Guilty until proven innocent beyond a reasonable doubt? This seems to be the mantra today, even while seasoned defense attorney work tirelessly to do everything possible to protect a client’s legal rights, freedom, future, and more.
Will our criminal justice system ever be “fixed” so that those who are truly innocent don’t face the decision of accepting a plea deal or fearing being found guilty should they plead not guilty and go forward to trial? When you give it much thought, it’s easy to understand why many give in to plea bargains rather than face the fate that may lie ahead if they were to be convicted at trial.