Innocent Punished More Harshly Than Guilty
Daniel Solove explains why innocent people who are wrongly convicted are punished more harshly than guilty people rightly convicted:
1. The federal sentencing guidelines and sentencing guidelines in many states provides for reductions in sentences for “acceptance of responsibility.” The innocent defendant, who refuses to admit to the crime, will not receive this benefit.
2. An innocent defendant might often refuse to accept a guilty plea deal. When the innocent defendant defends his or her innocence at trial and gets wrongly convicted, that defendant will invariably receive a much higher punishment than that proposed in the plea deal.
3. An innocent defendant, by not admitting to his or her crime, might hurt his or her chance for an early release from prison.
These factors lead to the rather perverse outcome that defendants who are innocent are punished more harshly than the guilty. The innocent defendant faces a terrible choice — either falsely admit guilt, in exchange for a lighter punishment, or defend his or her innocence but pay dearly if he or she loses. Innocent defendants are probably much more likely to choose the latter strategy.
It’s the “Shawshank Redemption” scenario but one that often plays out in real life. While perverse and tragic, it’s not at all obvious how it can be fixed, short of barring plea bargaining and parole. The system very much incentivizes guilty pleas and parole boards, not unreasonably, operate on the presumption that the convict is guilty of the crime for which he’s incarcerated.