Why Innocent People Take Plea Bargains

P. M. Beers
March 25, 2015

A plea bargain (also plea agreement, plea deal or copping a plea) is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor.

(ANTIMEDIA) Most criminal cases never end in a trial because a great majority of people accused of crimes take plea deals. This makes sense when someone is sure they have broken the law and there is abundant evidence to prove that fact. What about people who know they are innocent? Between two and eight percent of convicted felons are innocent people who took plea deals and “ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the results of guilty pleas,according to Judge John L. Kane.  Taking a criminal case to trial is the exception and not the rule.

Me livestreaming in Fullerton, CA prior to my arrest.

You may be aware that I was recently on trial for failure to disperse [409 PC] from the Kelly Thomas murder verdict protest. I wasn’t sure if I had broken the law or not, but I was certain that I had done nothing unethical. The first plea deal we were offered was three years unsupervised probation, a fine, and community service. That was a ridiculous offer as I personally know people convicted of the same crime in Los Angeles who were found guilty in a court of law by a jury of 12 people and given a 50 dollar fine. I know of other people who were given the option of taking a class on the first amendment in exchange for the DA not filing charges.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan’s Law School,  many innocent people take plea bargains. Sometimes people take plea deals out of fear of the worst possible outcome. Given the reality of the current injustice system, it’s not hard to believe that innocent people can get found guilty in a court of law. We’ve seen death row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence many years after their convictions.

Many criminal cases take over a year to resolve involving many days in court, delays and postponements. If a person has a job or is a student, this could lead to the loss of their job or failing of their classes. If I had a job where I had to be present to clock-in, I certainly wouldn’t be free to take so many days off whenever I was required to appear in court, let alone more than a week off for my trail by iteself. My co-defendant, AJ, was lucky to have such an awesome employment situation which let him have the days off he needed. If given a choice between loosing one’s job and taking a plea deal, most of us would not be privileged enough to face a jury trial due the state of our economy.

Right before we went on trial, both AJ and I refused to take another deal offered to us where we would be under unsupervised probation. Our trial ended in a hung jury and “the people” decided to retry the case. Our lawyers told us this was a good time to reconsider any plea deal that we would be willing to take. I’m one of the most stubborn people I have ever met. For this reason: No, I will NOT take ANY plea deal; I did nothing wrong and my conscious is clear. Our next pretrial is scheduled for April 17 at Fullerton’s North Injustice Center.

This whole fourteen-month-long process of being on trial has been stressful, I want it to be over, and now I’m about to go through it again. I’m in an advantageous situation where I don’t have small children to care for, a job that needs me present,  nor a school to attend. I’m also not afraid of the worst case scenario, which can be six months in jail. I’ve been fortunate to have the best possible legal team without having to depend on some random public defender who probably gives no shits about me or my case. I have so much community support and many people helping me along the way, donating to my legal fund, giving me rides, buying me lunch, and letting me stay in their home when I had to travel to court. I am the exception and not the rule. Most people’s life situation is not as flexible as mine and I now understand why innocent people take plea deals.

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