Judge Jed Rakoff – Why Innocent People Plead Guilty

I love my job.  I love being a criminal defense lawyer but it can be a hard job.  I care about my clients and I care about what happens to them.  The criminal justice system can be terribly unfair.  Prosecutors can and do underestimate the power they weld and the influence they have on people’s lives.   Judge Jed Rakoff is a judge in the Southern District of New York.  He was the judge who disapproved of the foul smelling deal between the SEC and Wall Street banks – only to be overturned. Today Judge Rakoff published an article detailing why innocent people plead guilty.  Every word of what he wrote is true. He spells out how little information the defense has when they are confronted with the decision about whether or not to enter into a plea bargain.  He also points out that prosecutors can load on more charges and therefore more time in prison if a person dares to go to trial.  The problem is further compounded by mandatory minimums and the sentencing guidelines which can drive sentences astronomically high, punishing those who dared to exercise their constitutional rights to go to trial. People regularly plead guilty because of the potential consequences they face if they were to go to trial.  If a prosecutor offered a year or two years in prison its an easy decision when you could face decades in custody if you lost a trial.  Alford pleas are rarely used in most federal courts even though they are permitted according to the case of the same name. In California state court judges are allowed to be involved in plea discussions at least to an extent.  It helps the process.  Judges can tell prosecutors when they are being unreasonable, when their cases are weak or their sentencing expectations unrealistic or inappropriate.  California state judges have, in certain situations, the authority to dismiss charges when they believe the interests of justice so dictate.  There is no such system in federal court…. and such a change is essentially what Judge Rakoff argues should occur in federal court. It’s a long article but well worth the read. The link is below. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/20/why-innocent-people-plead-guilty/