You are in: Home > Legal

Why Plead Guilty if You Are Innocent

29th September 2008
By Geoff Mousseau in Legal
RSS Legal RSS    Views: N/A

Recently a curious phenomenon has risen to the attention of the American public. Why do people plead guilty to crimes then profess their innocence? Or, to put it another way, why would someone plead guilty to a crime they did not commit?

Several bankers from England recently plead guilty to a Federal indictment and received prison sentences. All of the bankers plead guilty and did not go to trial. As part of their plea agreement they were permitted to serve their prison sentences in England. Why does this case matter?

None of the bankers agree that they committed a crime. They now claim that the only reason they plead guilty was to avoid the risk of going to trial and facing a prison sentence in the US. The press in England is paying attention to this case and so should we.

In another case that received scant press attention, an executive tried to plead guilty to a crime. He did not want to go to trial because he feared receiving a lengthy prison term. The judge would not accept his guilty plea. This man walked into court expecting to be sentenced to prison. He had been charged with a crime that he did not think he committed. He knew that he had very little chance of being acquitted in today's environment. He knew the prosecutors had no concern whether he may actually be innocent. And he surely did not want to risk getting a prison sentence that would have ruined his life. So, he marched into court to plead guilty. The judge rejected his plea deal when he admitted that he did not think he committed a crime.

So this poor guy is now going to have to go to trial under circumstances where his chances of prevailing are almost nonexistent, in a system that most fear gives longer sentences to those who go to trial.

The statistics for the percentage of people charged with a federal crime who end up spending time in prison are overwhelming. Over 90% of all people charged with a federal crime end up convicted. Virtually everyone who goes to trial looses. And over 80% of everyone convicted of a federal crime spend time in prison. Those numbers are staggering.

Even more staggering is the risk of lengthy prison terms. And whether true or not, the belief is that courts issue higher sentences to those who go to trial rather than accept a plea deal.

Under the federal system, one of the most important factors in determining the length of a prison term is the amount of money involved. In drug cases there are mandatory minimum sentences, usually over 10 years. In cases involving money -- business cases, investment cases, anything involving property -- it doesn't take much money to send sentence lengths soaring. And the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not apply when determining the amount of money involved in a crime.

For these reasons, reasonable people will agree to plead guilty to a crime they did not commit. The risks of going to trial, the risk that a court can find that your supposed crime involved substantial amounts of money, are too great.

The bottom line is that, if you are charged with a federal crime, you are probably going to go to prison. Guilt or innocence are luxuries. If you have been charged with a federal crime your first thought should not be that you are going to fight because you are not guilty. And heaven forbid, if you are guilty, you should not risk going to trial. Your first thought should be how to keep your prison sentence to the absolute minimum. Leave the question of guilt or innocence to the academics. Make sure your sentence is short enough so you can pick up the pieces when you are released.

We Prepare White Collar Defendants

This article is free for republishing
About the Author
Occupation: Federal Prison Consultant
Mr. Mousseau is an experienced attorney who has tried over 100 jury trials. He also recently spent 15 months in Federal Prison where he worked as the Lompoc Camp “clerk” until early 2008. His duties there included resolving the complaints and problems of over 600 prisoners, with staff contact at all levels of administration. He can answer your questions with compassion and commitment because he has been there.
Bookmark and Share

Ask a Question about this Article

powered by Yedda