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NY Judge: Innocent People are Going to Jail Because of Broken Plea Deal System

Innocent people are going to jail because of our broken judicial system that forces them to choose between “Lucifer and Satan,” according to a New York Federal Judge.

Manhattan Federal Judge Jed Rakoff said in a recent interview with the NY Daily News that prosecutors are currently using draconian minimum sentencing laws to bully defendants – some of them innocent – into taking plea deals rather than take their chances in court.

This, he said, is not what was intended when the founding fathers decided those accused were given a right to due process.

“The current process is totally different from what the founding fathers had in mind,” the judge stressed, pointing out that currently only 3 percent of all cases actually go to trial while the vast majority end in a plea deal.

Some of these defendants end up pleading out even when they are innocent, because they ultimately feel they have no choice.

Case in point – Rodney Roberts of Newark NJ was exonerated after 17 years in prison. After being released from jail, he said that he felt forced into taking a deal.

“I knew I didn’t do it, but I didn’t want to be in prison for the rest of my life,” Roberts said. “They made me believe they were ready to enforce a life sentence.”

Like many of those forced into jail without a fair trial, Roberts was too poor to pay private counsel, something David Patton, executive director at the Federal Defenders of New York, said is common among defendants most vulnerable to bullying from the prosecutors.

“The charges that carry mandatory minimums tend to be the type that involve poor people: drug, firearms cases,” Patton said. “These are where you have the most coercive situations.”

Patton also said he agrees with Rakoff’s call for reform in minimum sentencing to reduce the amount of power prosecution has in these cases.

“We’re asking prosecutors to play both adversary and judge,” Patton said. “It’s an impossible task. Judge Rakoff is highly respected and I think people listen when he speaks.”

Photo Credit: Flickr/Creative Commons

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.