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Kiriakou writes: "A record 149 people had their criminal convictions overturned in 2015 after courts found they had been wrongly charged, according to a recent study. Nearly 4 in 10 of those exonerated had been convicted of murder, and the average newly-released prisoner had served more than 14 years in prison. Most of the exonerations came in only two states, Texas and New York."

Amaury Villalobos and William Vasquez reacted after their exonerations in a 1980 Brooklyn arson case. From left, Adele Bernhard, a lawyer, with Mr. Villalobos; Rita Dave, a lawyer, with Mr. Vasquez; and the widow of Raymond Mora, a third defendant who was cleared, Janet Mora, and their daughter, Eileen Mora. (photo: Pearl Gabel/NYT)
Amaury Villalobos and William Vasquez reacted after their exonerations in a 1980 Brooklyn arson case. From left, Adele Bernhard, a lawyer, with Mr. Villalobos; Rita Dave, a lawyer, with Mr. Vasquez; and the widow of Raymond Mora, a third defendant who was cleared, Janet Mora, and their daughter, Eileen Mora. (photo: Pearl Gabel/NYT)

Forcing the Innocent to Plead Guilty, an American Disgrace

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

19 April 16


record 149 people had their criminal convictions overturned in 2015 after courts found they had been wrongly charged, according to a recent study. Nearly 4 in 10 of those exonerated had been convicted of murder, and the average newly-released prisoner had served more than 14 years in prison. Most of the exonerations came in only two states, Texas and New York. The National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School, found that there have been 1,733 exonerations since 1989, with the total doubling since 2011. More than two-thirds of last year’s exonerees were minorities. Five had been sentenced to death.

There is a reason why most of the exonerations have come from two locales. District attorneys in Brooklyn, New York, and Harris County, Texas, have begun long-term reviews of questionable convictions, actions that are being watched by prosecutors and defense attorneys across the country. With 156 death row exonerations since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, this is a problem that must be addressed.

The National Registry of Exonerations report stated further that 42 of those exonerated in 2015 had pleaded guilty, a glaring indication that the current system of seeking plea bargains simply isn’t just. Indeed, Propublica found that 98.2 percent of all federal cases end in conviction, with nearly all of those a result of plea deals.

Why would an innocent person take a plea? Really, there is no alternative. First, the government uses a technique called “charge stacking.” Have you committed an actual crime? Be prepared for multiple charges, including a lot of “throwaway charges,” like obstruction of justice or making a false statement. In addition, the government will likely levy multiple charges against you for the same crime.

The point is not necessarily to convict you on everything, although prosecutors are perfectly happy to do that. The point is that prosecutors will eventually offer you a deal. Take a plea to one count and the others will be dismissed. It’s a negotiating ploy. But for the accused, the question is this: Even if you are innocent, should you take a plea and do a couple of years in prison or should you try your luck at trial, knowing that almost no defendant wins in court? Almost everybody takes the deal.

After I blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture program, the Justice Department charged me with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. I had confirmed the name of a former CIA colleague to a reporter who wanted to interview him for a book. The name was never made public, but I shouldn’t have done it. Still, I had no criminal intent and there was no harm to the national security.

But that didn’t matter. The government added three espionage charges, as well as a charge of making a false statement. They threatened additional charges of making a false statement and obstruction of justice. Of course, I hadn’t committed espionage. Nor had I made any false statements. But that didn’t matter. Why risk a trial when you can just force a defendant to take a plea?

In the end, I took a plea to the initial charge. Everything else was dismissed. I was sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison. If I had gone to trial and had been found guilty, I was looking at 45 years. Realistically, I would have been sentenced to 18-24 years. Either way, I would have likely died in prison.

That happens every day in America. So it should be no surprise that innocent people are in prison as a result of pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. The work of the Brooklyn and Harris County district attorneys should be lauded. But innocent men and women shouldn’t have to rely on the isolated prosecutor with a conscience for justice. Justice should mean justice.

John Kiriakou is an Associate Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. He is a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+40 # PaulK 2016-04-19 12:35
If you're rich, you can buy "No admission of any wrongdoing". Seems like all of the lawsuit settlements have this clause, along with a gag order on the victims.

If you're rich and medieval, you can buy a papal indulgence that gets your soul into Heaven no matter what wickedness you did on earth.
+33 # Femihumanist 2016-04-19 17:31
Of course everyone, including prosecutors, make mistakes. However, when it can be shown that one of them got a conviction by blatantly illegal or unethical means, whether those described above, hiding exculpatory evidence, manufacturing evidence, or other ways, they should be charged with crimes.

These crimes should correspond to what they would have been charged with if they weren't government employees: Murder, if someone was executed; Attempted murder; imprisonment, etc.

This has to stop
+23 # Texas Aggie 2016-04-19 22:07
Saw an article that said about 4% of DA's who are found to have committed crimes in convicting innocent people ever face repercussions. These crimes include withholding evidence, lying, manufacturing evidence, and conspiracy and collusion with the cops to convict an innocent person.
+36 # tedrey 2016-04-19 18:09
If it is true that "98.2 percent of all federal cases end in conviction" the USA owes an apology to China for our constant denunciation of their court system for the same phenomenon.
+39 # ligonlaw 2016-04-19 18:12
I defended a young man who was charged with a crime along with 10 other young people. The DA dropped charges on my client after I read the law to him. There was no violation of any law. The other kids all took a plea. The DA knew there was no violation of the law, but gladly took guilty pleas. The courtroom is a dangerous place for civilians.
+30 # 2016-04-19 18:58
Very recently, I completed reading Bryan Stevenson's 'Just Mercy'. What a terrible, broken system the USA has in pretty well every direction you look. But this is the system that it wants to export to every other part of the globe - by force, if necessary.
+17 # elkingo 2016-04-19 20:34
Kafkaesque. Alice in Wonderland fascism. The workings of the system and the mentalities of the criminal "criminal justice system" enforcers are the products of capitalism. For the average person, it is imperative to stay out of their hands, because guilt or innocence hardly matter. They want to arrest, convict and sentence you. It is their industry, and that's what they do.It reassures them they've "got the right guy" and are protecting the public. It's nuts. Trials prove nothing.
+20 # mh1224jst 2016-04-19 21:22
Alas, I believe this is true: When there are private prisons, the profit motive leads to abuse, and in areas where they operate, there is less incentive to clean up the abusive practices in the criminal justice system that lead to improper plea bargaining and convictions.
+9 # John S. Browne 2016-04-19 21:36

But it also happens in most cases in jurisdictions where there are no private prisons, too.

+4 # Kiwikid 2016-04-22 23:24
It happens where I live, in New Zealand, also. People are charged with the maximum possible 'crime' and effectively blackmailed into pleading guilty to a lesser charge. While we have both private and Govt prisons this is irrelevant. The motivation for this 'policy' is to speed up the court process.
+1 # John S. Browne 2016-04-23 08:34

The RATIONALIZATION (and/or "justification" or "excuse") for this policy is to speed up the court process (but it is really in order to assure more convictions and prison sentences, mostly for non-violent crimes, and where most of the cases should be dismissed---if the defendants should have even been arrested in the first place).

+17 # elkingo 2016-04-19 20:39
Guilty until proven guilty, or, guilty until proven rich. The sheer fact of arrest is a presumption of guilt. Nobody admits this. After all, they haven't arrested any other person.
And the cops are the court of original jurisdiction - they decide whether to continue with the charges and introduce you into the system, or whether to let you go. (Rare.)
+13 # John S. Browne 2016-04-19 21:29

In many if not most jurisdictions, they are "legally" barred from releasing you and dropping charges unless it is clear-cut proven that you're innocent without any doubt, such as with iron-clad proof that you were someplace else at the time of the crime(s), with (an) unimpeachable witness(es). In other words, short of that, once arrested, people usually stay arrested; or, if by some improbability they get bailed out, continue to be prosecuted while out on bail. (Unless, of course, they're rich, and can buy their way out of it altogether, or with a plea of "no contest" and a sentence of nothing but community service or such like.)

This is the draconian system that we have been under in the U.S. for a very long time, and it is getting worse and worse.

+11 # John S. Browne 2016-04-19 21:14

Tell me about it. Plea negotiations are completely unconstitutiona l; but, of course, the higher courts have ruled them allegedly "constitutional ". The prosecutors and even defendants' public "defenders" (most of whom are more likely "wanna-be prosecutors" who are not only being paid by the state, at least indirectly if not directly, but also aiding the state in obtaining convictions one way or the other, including in trials) also play on defendants' emotional disturbances and purposely delay plea offers and trials, leaving defendants in dangerous jail situations for long periods of time, denying bail or making bails so exorbitant that most defendants and their families cannot afford them (also intentional), in order to wear them down and get them to plead guilty to "lesser" charges. It is totally unconscionable, but it is done in most criminal cases all across the country.

(Continued below)
+6 # John S. Browne 2016-04-19 21:16

Try to imagine yourself in such a situation, being torn away from your loved one(s), being emotionally disturbed as a result, and think about what you would likely do; and, if most of you would choose waiting additional months for a trial in many if not most cases (except perhaps in small county, small town areas), imagine that you would, as the article so accurately said, likely be convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to a much longer prison sentence. Under those circumstances, whether you believe it or not, you would very likely cave in, in most cases, and plead guilty for a lower sentence just as John Kiriakou did, and far too many others have done.

The powers-that-be have the general population so brainwashed, that the latter presume virtually everyone guilty who is arrested for and accused of crime(s); so, when they get on juries, they usually convict people, innocent or not. And prosecutors are allowed to get away with so much shenanigans planting more presumption of guilt in the jurors minds, which defense counsel, especially public "defenders", are not allowed to get away with in the opposite sense (showing reasonable doubt of guilt), that most jurors are usually convinced by the prosecutors, not the inadequate "defense". Then, add to that the instructions of the judge(s) that jurors do NOT have to follow, though most of them don't know that, and their blind following of authorities, and you have a recipe for disastrous conviction(s) at trial.

0 # Patriot 2016-04-29 00:16
"...public 'defenders' (most of whom are more likely 'wanna-be prosecutors' who are not only being paid by the state, at least indirectly if not directly, but also aiding the state in obtaining convictions one way or the other, including in trials)...."

Please, this is not fair and probably not accurate. Both prosecutors and public defenders are handling vastly more cases per year than they should be, which is ONE of many causes of plea bargains.

While District Attorneys and Public Defenders--the officials responsible for prosecution and defense, respectively--a re often, maybe always, elected officials, their undermanned and heartlessly overworked staffs of attorneys are, dedicated, frazzled, desperately determined men and women who deeply resent being forced to give less-than-good service to their clients. That so many of these dedicated peope serve as long as they do, in horrific conditions of pressure, stress, indequate pay, and staggering case loads, is to their credit.

Are there reprehensible attorneys working as prosecutors/pub lic defenders? Undoubtedly. But the two groups deserve better treatment than stereotyping. Public defenders serve because they believe that every defendant is innocent until the state PROVES them innocent. I do not know any numbers, but I believe that very few become prosecutors.

They truly deserve our help in FIXING the system, whose faults they struggle against every working day. Please apologize, John S. Brown?
0 # John S. Browne 2016-04-30 02:28

You appear to hopelessly live in a "rose-colored-g lasses" fantasy world. I have been railroaded several times, not for many years now, but in each and every case, my "public 'dumptruck'" sold me out. The last one wouldn't even listen at all to my side of the story of what really happened, he just wanted to help the prosecution convict me of something that I was not guilty of. Fortunately, due to my very strong faith in God the Father through the Lord Jesus the Christ, God protected me and got me through it relatively unscathed (no jail time; in fact, when I was arrested I bailed right out of the booking room, so I never saw a jail cell; and I was given unsupervised probation and allowed to immediately move out of state to get away from my FALSE accusers), but not before I had to plead guilty to something I wasn't guilty of in order to be allowed to leave the state.

So, you are talking to someone who knows what they've talking about concerning this subject matter, which you clearly do NOT know what you're talking about concerning. I have been to hell and back several times with this criminal "(in)justice" system. And ask the HUGE number of people, in the vast majority of cases, who are railroaded every day!

Any and all people who blindly believe in and defend the above-reference d system as you do, are thoroughly brainwashed with all of the usual, typical talking points and rationalization s that you spout here, all of which have little basis in actual reality.

0 # John S. Browne 2016-04-30 05:51

(Continued from above)

The powers-that-be have you believing exactly the way they want you to believe. And they have gotten you to be exactly the way they want you to be, blindly trusting the system of things, the way they run things, with smoke and mirrors to get you to believe and blindly trust that that completely evil, corrupt system is supposedly doing the best that it can, but needs the help of you good little sheople slaves to make it "better".

What a joke, and the joke is on you. But not just you. The vast majority of people have swallowed and are living, "hook, line and s(uc)ker", the same lies, really believing them just as you do, and wanting to believe those lies "for dear 'life'", not wanting to ever know the truth that those lies are just that, nothing but lies, and that they've been living one great, big, huge, fantastical lie, made up of a giant matrix of many lies, in an artificial "reality" created to keep them "living" those lies; again, really believing them with all of their minds, in a group mass-insanity that they also falsely believe is "completely 'sane'"; and that everyone who is no longer a part of that mass-insanity and matrix of lies, is supposedly "insane". The truth is supposedly "lies", and the lies are supposedly "truth"; the truly sane are supposedly "insane", and the truly insane are supposedly "sane".

(Continued below)
0 # John S. Browne 2016-04-30 06:10

"Welcome" to the extremely-evil "Wonderland" that we're in today. Now it's time to finally wake up, face the rabbit hole, climb out of it, and come completely out of the matrix of lies, the mass-deception, and the mass-insanity (unless you want to continue being truly insane and "living" in nothing but a phony "reality").

+10 # lewagner 2016-04-19 21:27
In St. Louis County MN, they even forced confession to an "arson fire" that never even HAPPENED.
NO-ONE can tell where the fire supposedly happened, not the newspapers (link above), AND not the Sheriff, not the Fire Inspectors, AND not even the "victim's grand-daughter" (or the person who claimed to be) (3 links below)
+6 # Dion Giles 2016-04-20 04:47
No wonder Julian Assange stays in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid being sent to compliant Sweden for rendering to a US court for telling its guilty secrets.

Plea bargaining should be outlawed and prosecutors practising it should be sent to gaol for a long time where they can account for themselves to other inmates.

Also, when a prosecutor has convinced a jury beyond doubt that a person has committed a crime and the person is later found to have been innocent the prosecutor should do serious time for perverting the course of justice.
+4 # elizabethblock 2016-04-20 12:10
This happens in Israel, too, to children. Check out the website of Military Court Watch. Even if they have a lawyer, the lawyer will advise them to plead guilty even if they are innocent. The conviction rate is 99+%.
+2 # Adoregon 2016-04-20 12:13
Muy, muy fucked-up.
+5 # mmc 2016-04-20 15:08
There is another ugly side to plea bargains. Prosecutors in Fairfax County, Virginia recently allowed a county police officer to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, with a 1 year sentence (not yet agreed to by the judge). The officer shot and killed a man standing in his own doorway with his hands up, claiming the victim was dropping his hands to get a weapon on the floor near him. Four other officers with clear views at the scene testified that the victim did not move, and was shot dead with his hands up, as they had been for several minutes.

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