Prosecutors have discovered that almost any defendant can be persuaded to plead guilty, given sufficient inducements. This discovery has been partly a response to the fact that the over-criminalization of life, and particularly Congress’s indefensible multiplication of federal crimes, means that otherwise the court system would, in Justice Antonin Scalia’s words, “grind to a halt.”
There is, Neily says, “abundant, undisputed evidence” of innocent defendants pleading guilty. Of the 367 convicts exonerated by DNA analysis to date, 11 percent had pleaded guilty. Various studies have concluded that between 1.6 percent and 8 percent of defendants who plead guilty would not have been convicted in a trial. The lowest estimate would mean that in 2009 there were more than 1,250 innocent people incarcerated in the federal system alone, and many multiples of that number in state systems.
Responding to Neily’s Declaration, the Justice Department complacently asserts that U.S. law guarantees fair trials: Coercive plea bargains are forbidden, therefore they do not occur, so innocent people do not plead guilty. Move along, nothing to see here.