Why Innocent People Take Plea Bargains

March 25, 2015   |   PM Beers

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.

This article is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and TheAntiMedia.org. Tune in to the Anti-Media radio show Monday through Friday @ 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: m.a.r.c./Flickr CC. Help us fix our typos: edits@theantimedia.org.

Author: PM Beers

PM Beers joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in April of 2014. Her topics of interest include mental illness, neurology, quantum physics, Tourette's, Autism, compassionate parenting, horizontal democracy, activism, and art. Born in Long Beach, California, she currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

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  1. This happens every day, it has happened to more than one of my family members. They tell you what the maximum sentence you could receive and hint strongly that it will probably happen. Most court-appointed lawyers in Texas are worthless, and if you bond out of jail you can't get one anyway. Most people can't afford to hire a good one, at the tune of $10,000-$100,000 and up for a jury trial. This means you end up screwed and there's nothing you can do about it, even if you are innocent of the charges.

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  2. This is an obviously knowledgeable person with a lot of support, basically having a struggle fighting a really minor infraction. It's very hard to impossible to convince someone who hasn't been through it that this is how our justice system is. The truth is it has become such a single- minded, self- burdening force, that if everyone simply refused a plea deal then the whole system would crumble. The time and resources don't exist. As in, there aren't enough court rooms, judges, or prosecutors to handle it. Such a flawed system operating under such parameters and driven by such negativity is bound for a catastrophic end if not reigned in effectively by intelligent, compassionate people.

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  3. And the big factor, as I see it, is the line after the deal is offered: "…and if you don;t, we'll <threats fo maximum number of charges and years in jail>"

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  4. The system is corrupt to the core and I know all about being innocent and taking a plea deal!

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  5. This guy goes to trial and it ends in a hung jury…………AND THE DA DECIDES TO TRY HIM AGAIN???? What the hell, are they so financially solvent in that county where they can be wasting resources on such bullshit?

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  6. If you accidentally drop a quarter on the ground the D.A. may charge you with littering, criminal misconduct, creating a public nuisance, disturbing the peace. They'll drop 3 if you plead to 1. Whichever one they want you to. It keeps up their conviction rate percentage. D.A.s love it.

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  7. Same in Oklahoma. They even deny you an attorney to force family to pay

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  8. Hello in the hometown where I grew up! What's amazing is, you're still going through this ordeal while the thugs who MURDERED Kelly Thomas got off free. The whole situation just shows that our CJ system doesn't work and can't be trusted – and if you can't trust the courts, well, soon people are going to have to handle crime and punishment themselves.

    Anyhow, let me know if there's anything I can do to help you out. Otherwise, good luck on this.

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  9. In our case, we fought and lost. The prosecutor withheld crucial evidence and the judge allowed it. Specifically, I was charged with being a con artist for claiming that I have a Harvard degree and was the Navy's chief missile engineer, i.e. rocket scientist. The prosecutor verified that I have a Masters degree from Harvard and am all-but-dissertation on my doctorate. He also verified that I was selected as the nation's chief missile engineer but lost that job due to his criminal accusations. Despite the facts, the judge allowed him to convince the jury that I am an ignorant, noneducated black woman from Detroit, a place I have never visited.

    Moreover, the prosecutor had evidence that my husband is an Eagle Scout, Air Force veteran, and that he built our 4,206 square foot home from foundation-to-finish with NO outside labor. Despite the facts, he was allowed to portray my husband as (IN HIS WORDS) "lazy", "shiftless", "nothing", "smooth talker" and other negative stereotypes of Black men.

    Worse, the prosecutor was later overheard instructing two witnesses to lie in order to "put their Black asses in jail". He was overheard by an independent white journalist who just happened to be in the courtroom. The journalist put in a declaration to that effect and the state of California responded by taking out a restraining order against me preventing me from mentioning the prosecutor's name!

    I support the incarceration of bad prosecutors and judges because I feel that their abuses of public trust that egregious. I may or may not win my fight in the courts, but I am willing to fight my battle in the streets. Instead of me using my talents to help America, I feel justified in celebrating Her downfall. I feel that since the courts won't get it right, I would be a damn fool to rely on the courts for justice. That is why I support any group willing to take on the corrupt and Broken Judicial Branch by any means necessary.

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  10. In my case, the arresting officer submitted an affadavit that was packed with wild fiction. 2 of the 3 charges were HIGHLY debatable, whereas the 3rd was “resisting arrest”. (The first clue that I had that I was under arrest was AFTER I was cuffed and I asked whether I was under arrest.)

    My main reason for copping a plea was that in this country, where one is “presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt” a cop’s perjury is hard to get around.
    Plus, lawyer fees are so high that it is often counterproductive to stand on principle.

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  11. I know a very nice man who in vindictiveness his ex wife claimed with no evidence at all he beat her. This was the same woman who had an affair on him with a man who raped both his daughters. Yet on her word alone this poor man was jailed for some time unable to bail out. He was offered a plea deal in which he could get out of jail shortly. And though he was not guilty in the slightest he took this deal because he had no other good choices afforded him. Yes, indeed this is the injustice system as not only this but his daughters rapist walks free. I'd say it is unbelievable except it is so damn common.

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  12. I am very sorry to hear what you and your family have had to go through. We think we are a free nation with many opportunities when in fact we had allowed her to fall into a deep corrupted state of disrepair. Nevertheless though we should diligently fight to challenge such corruption i advocate doing so in the spirit of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, as in peacefully and mindfully yet never letting up.

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  13. It wouldn't have to take 'everyone'. It is a smaller number than that… And if the enough people used their 6th amend. rights instead of taking a deal, it would shut down the prison for profit, the prison slave labor trade, but best of all, it shut down a corrupt federal government who also profits from all of this stuff. It put the constitution in full power and we might even be able to rebuild a new government that could not grant themselves all these crazy immunities nor invest in any federal contracted business. But for now, I would be happy just see killer cops go to prison for full sentences when beat, rape, and kill. I would also like to see criminal court judges sent into solitary confinement for at least a week before they are allowed on the bench. And prosecutors should be appointed to go on ride alongs with cops for a month or so, so they can recognize false arrest and incidents involving planting of evidence. If congressman really wanted to know what was best for the people, they would go under cover for a couple of weeks inside prisons, county jails, mental hospitals, police stations, etc… But a plea bargain strike, that would do it right there….

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  14. That's true, this is why you have to do your own homework and research. Especially on the arresting officer. They leave lots impeachment goodies all over the net. Also, a little known secret goldmine on a national data base of dispatch call records archives (broadcasitify.com).

    And you should aways testify on your own behalf. If you have priors on the same arrest charges, get on the stand and make your priors evidence in your favor. Showing the jury that your prior record leaves you victim to re-arrest (like double jeopardy only new charges based on planted evidence).

    The Jury is a panel of citizens who are not lawyers or cops, and don't understand half of what court argues. But the second you get on the stand and eye-ball the prosecuter (this really makes them very nervous), and keep your responses quick and polite but with a look that shows that you are tolerating a very shady person as if they are the criminal.

    Now, beyond a reasonable doubt? No way, no how, you can lose with all the doubt you just left with the jury. 🙂

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  1. Fullerton Drops Charges Against Kelly Thomas Livestreamers - inLeague PressinLeague Press - […] http://theantimedia.org/innocent-people-take-plea-bargains/ […]

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