Writer Michele Alexander raises the wrongful conviction issue as it relates to plea bargaining. As an example, she writes, Erma Faye Stewart, a single African-American mother of two, arrested in 2000 in a drug sweep in Hearne, TX., claimed innocence, but was very worried about her children’s care while she was in jail. Her court-appointed lawyer told her to take the prosecutor’s deal: plead guilty for probation. She pled, was sentenced to 10 years’ probation, and a $1,000 fine. But now she was a felon. Barred from food stamps, evicted from public housing and homeless, her children were taken and placed in foster care. Read the full New York Times op-ed piece here.
More than 90 percent of U.S. criminal cases are not settled in a trial or by a jury. The plea bargaining system is seemingly essential to a criminal justice system that incarcerates about one in 100 adult Americans. But how often do innocent people plead to avoid the costs—in time and resources—of pursuing a trial or to avoid the risk of conviction and incarceration?