Friday, 23 October 2009

I Plead Guilty

I always had my reservations about the widespread practice, especially in the United States, of offering reduced sentences to defendants who agree to "voluntarily" enter a guilty plea. Now, provided it proves true, this story, reported a few days ago by the BBC, assures me that guilty pleas in return for leniency are wrong (so called "plea bargains").

Yes, they make for quicker, and hence cheaper, process of handling a lot of criminal cases. And don't get me wrong, I do not propose to get rid of guilty pleas in general. If one can be had so much the better for all involved. I just think that it may be ultimately unfair for the defendant, especially one that has no means to defend his innocence properly, is poorly advised by his legal team, or intellectually incapable of making the right decision.

As the story mentioned above shows quite nicely, some may be tempted to plead guilty even if they are completely innocent. It probably does take a deliberately malicious set-up to be uncovered for this to become clear, but it is blindingly obvious, and humanly understandable after all, that those who could find no way of proving their innocence went for a guilty plea as that gets them out of jail earlier. This case makes everything even worse as it involves rape, and with that on your record your life is pretty much ruined with no chance of redemption - ever.

We all assume that our legal systems are founded on the healthy assumption of being innocent until proven guilty, but also that the system is geared towards making sure innocent people are not wrongly found guilty, even if they do sometimes end up accused. Lenience in return for a guilty plea seriously undermines the latter. Same is true for death sentence, as it is the only truly irreversible punishment in modern, democratic societies. But that is a theme for another post - if there is need to expand on it at all.

Death sentence is wrong. Period. On guilty plea for leniency the jury is still out. But the outlook is not good.