Sometimes People Plead Guilty and Are Innocent

Sometimes People Plead Guilty and Are Innocent

Why would someone plead guilty if they’re not? One reason is to avoid the worst case scenario – the maximum sentence. When you make a deal, you generally get a lesser sentence in exchange for your guilty plea. Even if you didn’t commit the crime, some attorneys say it’s better to take a deal, especially when the odds aren’t in your favor. This is what happened to NFL hopeful Brian Banks.

Brian Banks was accused of raping a girl in the stairwell of their school when he was 16. A star football player, he had already been offered a full ride at USC. There was no evidence of the rape and no witnesses, but Banks’ attorney believed he would be convicted based on his race, his age and his size. The maximum sentence could have been more than 40 years. His attorney advised him to take a deal, and he did. He was sentenced to six years in prison. He served just over five, and spent another five with an ankle bracelet.

In 2002, Banks had a sure shot at the NFL if his college career lived up to its promise. Ten years later, he was a registered sex offender who couldn’t find a steady job. But Banks had a better outcome than many who are wrongfully convicted. Last year, the woman who had falsely accused him of rape (and who had won a $750,000 settlement from the school), tried to friend him on Facebook. Apparently, she wanted to forget the past and get back together. Banks played it right. He hired a private investigator and got the woman on tape saying that he did not rape her. With help from the California Innocence Project, he was exonerated.

According to Banks, the girl was almost nonchalant about how she ruined his life.  He implied that her mother put her up to it all and that they would have recanted sooner, but didn’t want to have to give back the money they got.  No word yet on whether or not they are being prosecuted, but it’s crazy to think that someone could have such a low moral compass.

Several NFL teams say they are interested in Banks including Seattle which is coached by Pete Carroll who would have been Banks coach at USC. Here’s hoping he makes it. It’s depressing that his best option was to plead guilty to something he didn’t do and lose ten years of his life, by no fault of his own. The reality is that his lawyer probably looked at him as guilty instead of doing his job which was to fight for him.  You can’t blame a 16 year old kid for listening to the advice of an alleged professional.  And while it’s rare, people do in fact plead guilty to crimes they are innocent of.


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  • My book, Our Corrupt Legal System, lists 24 truth-defeating mechanisms in the Anglo-colonial system. Plea-bargaining is number 11. Thus:

    11. Plea-bargaining

    Professor John Langbein wrote in The Historical Origins of the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination at Common Law (Michigan Law Review, March 1994): “ ... when our criminal procedural system crumbled in the twentieth century under caseload pressures, our response was to dispense with trial altogether, transforming the pre-trial process into our no-trial plea-bargaining system.”

    Caseloads are a factor, but plea-bargaining is an admission that the system’s anti-truth devices make it difficult to get convictions. Prosecutors offer suspects a no-risk bargain: accept a large fine or a few years in prison against the possibility of going to prison forever. Plea-bargaining works two ways. It can put the innocent in prison and give the guilty a much lighter sentence and thus deprive victims and the community of justice.

    Judges (and jurors) in France and Germany do not accept guilty pleas. They have to find the truth for themselves, and they know a guilty plea can be false because of torture, coercion or to protect others.

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