For many people in Georgia accused of a crime, a plea bargain may seem an almost inevitable way to resolve the charges. After all, a full 97% of federal criminal convictions are garnered through the use of agreed-upon guilty pleas, rather than a conviction in court. The same is true of 94% of state criminal convictions. In 2018 alone, federal prosecutors initiated 80,000 cases, and only 2% went to trial. These numbers may come as a surprise; after all, it would seem that many people have a better chance to argue their cases before a jury of their peers where prosecutors are forced to prove allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
While some people may agree to plea bargains because they are clearly guilty, it is also clear that innocent people have pleaded guilty in response to prosecutor coercion and a stacked deck against them. There are a number of practices that are seemingly accepted as legal yet undermine confidence in an impartial justice system. People who do not agree to a plea bargain may face far harsher sentencing if convicted in court. In addition, prosecutors may threaten to impose even harsher charges against defendants refusing to take a plea. Other people may be pressured with pretrial detention, unaffordable bail, or threats to investigate friends and family.
Since 1989, at least 11% of DNA-related exonerations have involved defendants who pleaded guilty to crimes that they did not commit. Some sources place this figure at 20%. In addition, plea bargains also cover up prosecutorial and police abuse and misconduct that would otherwise come to light in open court.
People who are facing criminal charges may also encounter a number of techniques designed to ensure a guilty plea. A criminal defense lawyer can work with defendants to challenge prosecution narratives and protect their rights.