Tag Archives: incarceration rates

Opinion piece references impact of plea bargains on wrongful conviction

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?