A federal judge in New York did an interview with the New York Daily News in which he said that tens of thousands of innocent people have pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit because the criminal justice system gives prosecutors enormous power to coerce such pleas.
Too many innocent people go to prison because the American plea bargain process is broken, says a prominent New York judge with an innovative new solution.
Manhattan Federal Judge Jed Rakoff argues judges should become more involved in the process so prosecutors armed with harsh mandatory minimum sentences are less able to bully defendants, he told the Daily News in a rare sit-down interview…
How many innocent or partly innocently people are locked up on false plea agreements? Rakoff says estimates have ranged from 1% to 8% of the prison population.
Even 0.5% would total more than 10,000 people, Rakoff said.
That’s why Rakoff is proposing a mechanism that would designate junior judges to hear evidence and issue plea bargain recommendations early on in cases.
The junior judges, called magistrate judges in the federal system, would hear from prosecutors and defense lawyers separately before weighing in. Their recommendations wouldn’t be binding.
Rakoff says the setup, which could begin as a pilot program, would bring plea bargaining out from behind closed doors and relieve pressure on defendants deciding whether to risk a longer sentence by heading to trial.
That’s a good start. Another would be eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, but that would require Congressional action and that’s very unlikely to happen. You know what would help even more? Legalize drugs. All of them. Immediately.