People ask me all the time “why would someone plead guilty to a criminal charge that they don't believe they've committed?”. It is a fair question, but what motivates factually innocent or, at minimum, people with very questionable charges to enter a guilty plea is a very complex question.
WHAT FACTORS CAUSE INNOCENT PEOPLE TO PLEAD GUILTY?
Quite simply, the leverage that the State has in negotiating criminal cases causes many people to plead guilty that would otherwise take their case to trial. For example, if you were facing the possibility of a decade in prison if you were convicted following a trial, it is really difficult to turn down an offer to plead guilty to the same felony charge if the prosecutor offers a guilty plea with an offer of 10 years on probation with no incarceration.
DO JUDGES ACTUALLY PERMIT PROSECUTORS TO ENGAGE IN SUCH TACTICS?
Yes, Judges not only permit such conduct in Georgia criminal cases, but they actually encourage such conduct in the vast majority of jurisdictions. What Georgia criminal defense attorneys see over and over again is that Judges are primarily concerned with moves cases along and off their calendar. Particularly in metro-Atlanta where criminal dockets can get overwhelming, so Judges seems extremely concerned with promoting guilty pleas, in lieu of trials. Judges foster the State's tact of leveraging possible post-trial sentences by sentencing defendants to unreasonable periods of incarceration following trial.
WHY DO PROSECUTORS ENGAGE IN THESE TACTICS?
Every case that a prosecutor extracts a guilty plea on is one less case that he/she has to prepare for trial. If a prosecutor knows that he/she can avoid work by recommending a light sentence prior to trial and the Judge will not sentence the defendant less severely after trial, why wouldn't the prosecutor engage in such tactics?
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