Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's Tough Being Innocent

Dan Solove notes an enduring and tragic paradox of our legal system: the innocent are punished more harshly than the guilty. Why?
1. The federal sentencing guidelines and sentencing guidelines in many states provide 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 the crime, might hurt his or her chance for an early release from prison.

Solove recommends eliminating "acceptance of responsibility" as a factor in sentencing or parole, and setting guidelines to limit the disparity between plea deals offered and the sentence pursued at trial. What do you think?


Joe said...

I don't know, but I would keep in mind that wrongful conviction is relatively rare, so there are many many truly guilty people accepting responsibility for every innocent who isn't.

Stentor said...

As I see it, the point of the "accepting responsibility" thing is grounds for a reduced sentence because it means you're less likely to reoffend, so we don't need to waste time punishing someone who's already reformed. It seems weird to take that away just because innocent people can't accept responsibility for things they didn't do. But I would be interested in broadening the standards for "doesn't need to be punished further" such that innocent people, who obviously don't need to be *re*formed, can meet them as well as reformed guilty people.

Ultimately, it seems like the best answer for innocent people is reforms that make it less likely they'll be wrongfully convicted in the first place, rather than being harsher on correctly convicted people.