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Why the 'trial penalty' can lead to wrongful conviction

Several posts over the last year have focused on the problem of wrongful conviction. This is an important criminal defense issue for a number of reasons, the first of which being that each case of wrongful conviction and wrongful incarceration represents a major miscarriage of justice.

Unfortunately, wrongful conviction occurs far more often than most people realize. Many of these convictions are based either on a false confession given during interrogation or a confession given as part of a plea deal (which is generally the least-bad option defendants have to choose from). Even by very conservative estimates, false confessions as part of plea deals occur about 1 percent of the time. That equates to as many as 20,000 innocent people behind bars.

We have already written on the interrogation tactics that can pressure innocent individuals into falsely confessing. But wrongful convictions also occur because defendants are essentially coerced into accepting a plea deal.

There are too many cases in the criminal justice system to allow every case to go to trial (even though a trial is a Constitutional right). Statistics show that about 96 percent of criminal cases end in a plea bargain. Why do so many defendants cop a plea? Frankly, it’s because they cannot risk the consequences of going to trial and losing.

Prosecutors often threaten defendants with the “trial penalty.” This means that if you refuse the plea deal (unjust as it may be), you risk an overwhelmingly worse fate if you are convicted at trial. For federal cases, convicted offenders who do not take plea deals are often locked up nine times longer than they would have been otherwise. Some defendants are even threatened with the death penalty if they refuse a plea deal.

If you are charged with a crime, you simply cannot afford to take the chance that the legal system will prove to be just and fair. Criminal defendants need all the help and advocacy they can get. That’s why, if you are facing criminal charges, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

Source: VICE News, “Why Are There Up to 120,000 Innocent People in US Prisons?” Justin Rohrlich, Nov. 10, 2014

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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