In the movies and on television, criminal charges always lead to thorough investigations and dramatic courtroom encounters. But that’s not how things really work. In the real world, more than 97% of all charges lead to plea bargains, and innocent Texans may find themselves intimidated into plea convictions.
The idea that people would ever confess to crimes they didn’t commit may sound crazy, but prosecutors can exert a lot of leverage with the “trial penalty.” In backroom meetings, they often give defendants a choice: Plead guilty to a lesser crime or go to trial on far more serious charges. The two possibilities will lead to a huge difference in possible sentences—and that difference is the trial penalty.
How can you protect yourself?
When 97% of all charges lead to plea bargains, you have good reason to believe the modern court system concerns itself less with justice than with expediency. Prosecutors often face pressure to win convictions, and plea bargains will satisfy those pressures. But you don’t need to help prosecutors deal with their pressures; you still have rights under the Sixth Amendment:
- A speedy and public trial
- An impartial jury
- Information about the charges against you
- Face opposing witnesses
- Allowed witnesses in your defense
- Access to legal counsel
Your best response to any charges brought against you will depend on the circumstances. But you can’t fight the injustice of the trial penalty by confessing to a crime you didn’t commit. It’s important to remember that a criminal conviction—even for a lesser offense—carries a host of secondary consequences. If you find yourself accused, you want a lawyer who will stand up for your rights.
When compromise is a wrongful conviction
Thanks to their ability to abuse the trial penalty, prosecutors carry a big stick, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them hit you with it. A good criminal defense attorney can make sure prosecutors follow the rules and allow you a chance to exonerate yourself in trial. It’s your life on the line, and you don’t want to strike deals if those deals would convict you of a crime for which you should be found not guilty.