According to estimates made by the Innocence Project in 2014, there may be as many as 120,000 prisoners serving time for crimes that they did not commit. If the justice system is designed to protect the innocent until proven guilty, where are things going wrong?
The issue, as it turns out, may be that the justice system is failing to uphold a presumption of innocence in favor of expediting the processing of criminal cases. While a fair trial is a right protected by the United States Constitution, many Americans are actually signing it away. The Washington Post cites the Supreme Court in an article discussing the rate at which criminal cases actually go to trial. Shockingly, more than 95% of all criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining.
Through plea bargains, the accused can admit guilt and refuse their right to trial by accepting a lesser sentence than he or she might otherwise receive if convicted by a jury. In theory, the plea bargain system sounds more than fair to those who are guilty. But what about the innocent? You might assume that those who are innocent can refuse a plea bargain and take their chances at trial. The problem, however, is that presumption of guilt has permeated the justice system.
Through aggressive and often manipulative tactics employed by interrogator-as seen throughout Making a Murderer-as well as a “show no mercy” approach taken by prosecutors, the conviction rate in the United States is staggering, and growing every year. Those who have been accused of crimes are often convinced by their attorneys that they stand little chance of being exonerated through trial and, thus, accept plea bargains in an attempt to minimize the damage.
Now That We Know the Problem, What is the Solution?
Solving the justice system will take a collective effort, but it starts with lawyers who are willing to see their clients’ cases through and stand up for their rights to fair trial and the presumption of innocence. That’s why the Nebraska criminal defense attorneys at Monzón, Guerra & Chipman, are not afraid to go the distance for our clients.