Blume and Helm on Innocent Defendants Who Plead Guilty

John H. Blume of Cornell University and Rebecca K. Helm have posted the article “The Unexonerated: Factually Innocent Defendants Who Plead Guilty”, Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper (July, 2012) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Several recent high profile cases, including the case of the West Memphis Three, have revealed (again), that factually innocent defendants do plead guilty. And, more disturbingly in many of the cases, the defendant’s innocence is known, or at least highly suspected at the time the plea is entered. Innocent defendants plead guilty most often, but not always, in two sets of cases: first, low level offenses where a quick guilty plea provides the key to the cellblock door; and second, cases where defendants have been wrongfully convicted, prevail on appeal, and are then offered a plea bargain which will assure their immediate or imminent release. There are three primary contributing factors leading a criminal justice system where significant numbers of innocent defendants plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. The first is the perceived need that all defendants must plead. The second is the current draconian sentencing regime for criminal offenses. And, the final contributing factor is that plea bargaining is, for the most part, an unregulated industry. This article discusses cases in which innocent defendants plead guilty to obtain their release, thus joining the “unexonerated” and then propose several options the criminal justice system should embrace to avoid, or at least ameliorate the plight of innocent defendants who plead guilty.

One response to “Blume and Helm on Innocent Defendants Who Plead Guilty

  1. Hearing about defendants who take the “Alford Plea”, (admitting guilt despite being innocent in order to obtail early release) becomes very discerning for those “innocents” who have made the extremely tough decision to never admit to something that they did not do. I believe that it tends to thoroughly weaken the personal conviction or integrity of those prisoners in the face of seeing others released while they themselves have little or no chance of such an end. Having said this, I can also appreciate why defendants such as the three West Memphis men did so, being that Damien Echols was on death row, slated to be executed in a matter of weeks. I also believe that it must have torn them apart at the very core to give in to this most undesireable but optional conclusion. I advocate for five men in Wisconsin who are currently serving life sentences for somerthing they did not do (www.sixinnocentmen.com) who have maintained their innocence and have done so for close to 20 years. Could it be slightly easier to maintain this stance only because they are not facing the death penalty? Only they could know the answer to that for sure. Nevertheless, they still have to face a lifetime of the every day hardships of being incarcerated. Options tend to be few for those wrongly convicted. Aside from the wonderful intervention of the Innocence Project, often the only source of hope for them lies in the hands of a few good people who become willing and able to help find that path to vindication and exoneration and only then does the option of having to admit guilt become less of a consideration. I am proud to say that I am one of those chosen few that have made a commitment to do as much as I can in order to obtain a just and most deserving end for some people less fortunate than myself.

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