Our Voices

Introducing the "Guilty Plea Problem"

A common misconception in America is that the vast majority of people in prison have been proven guilty by the State. Another misconception is that no one would plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. But the reality is that approximately 95% of felony convictions are obtained through guilty pleas. To put this statistic into perspective, this means that only one of every twenty convictions is obtained by the State going to trial and proving that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Of the 347 people who have had their convictions overturned by DNA evidence that was not available at the time of their trial, 10%, or 34 were originally convicted based on a guilty plea. This poses a very important question about our criminal justice system: why would someone who was actually innocent plead guilty?

This is only one of the shocking statistics that The Innocence Project seeks to address in their upcoming “Guilty Plea Problem” campaign. The goal of this campaign is to shed light on the overwhelming number of innocent people who are pleading guilty to crimes that they did not commit. Those 347 people are not representative of the total number of innocent individuals who remain behind bars after entering a guilty plea.

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Race to Death: A Critical Look at the Death Penalty as Arkansas Executes Eight

The state of Arkansas plans to execute eight people across ten days this April. Arkansas will attempt to execute two people per day on four days in order to use up their stock of execution drug, midazolam, before its expiration date.

Until now, Arkansas's mark in death penalty history was its execution of Rickey Ray Rector: a man so unable to comprehend his surroundings that he ate his final meal and saved his slice of pecan pie for later. Rector had shot himself in the head after committing his crime, but survived. Legally, the state may not execute a person who does not understand they are about to die. Yet the courts ducked the issue, and another famous Arkansas Governor—Bill Clinton—made sure to be present for Rector's execution even while campaigning for the presidency in 1992.

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The Guilty Plea Problem: By Threat of Lethal Injection

Innocent people plead guilty for a variety of reasons that we will be discussing during the coming weeks. We see one of these reasons highlighted in the case of Christopher Ochoa, showcased by the Innocence Project’s “Guilty Plea Problem” campaign.

Police told Ochoa that if he refused to confess to the violent sexual assault and murder of Nancy DePriest, he would be facing the death penalty. The only connection Ochoa had to Ms. DePriest was being an employee at the establishment where she was found after the attack. In return for agreeing to confess, Ochoa was promised that he would be able to go home - a promise would not be fulfilled for another 13 years. On the advice of his attorney, Ochoa agreed to sign a written statement he knew to be untrue and pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit.

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Flawed Forensics and Innocence Symposium

When justice hinges on forensic evidence, the science behind it must be flawless. But that is not always the case.  On March 3 and 4, 2016, the West Virginia Law Review held a symposium at the West Virginia University College of Law to explore the use of flawed forensics in the criminal justice system, entitled “Flawed Forensics and Innocence." Participants included national experts from higher education, the legal community, and advocacy groups.  

Experts explored topics such as the use (and abuse) of forensic science in the courtroom, crime labs and federal oversight, litigating arson, and forensic evidence in pre-trial and post-conviction proceedings. Author and journalist Radley Balko, who writes about criminal justice and civil liberties for The Washington Post, delivered the key note address, and Innocence Project founder Barry Scheck spoke at lunch. 

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