It is too easy to convict an innocent person.
The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. That may sound low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away? Those of us who are involved in exoneration work firmly believe so.
Millions of defendants are processed through our courts each year. It's nearly impossible to determine how many of them are actually innocent once they've been convicted. There are few resources for examining the cases and backgrounds of those claiming to be wrongfully convicted.
Once an innocent person is convicted, it is next to impossible to get them out of prison. Over the past 25 years, the Innocence Project, where I serve on the board of directors, has secured through DNA testing the release of 349 innocent men and women, 20 of whom had been sent to death row. All told, there have been more than 2,000 exonerations, including 200 from death row, in the U.S. during that same period. But we've only scratched the surface.
In the federal system many innocent people are forced to plead guilty because of the risks of going to trial. Go to trial in the federal system and often times you are looking at more than 10 years in prison, at best. Plead and you get cut that exposure way way down. Other districts are starting to lessen the trial penalty. Martin Shkreli was just sentenced to 7 years even though prosecutors said his guidelines after trial were 15+ years. Many will say that 7 years was too low. Others will say that 7 years is a lot for a first-time non-violent offender. Regardless of what side you come out on, we should all agree that going to trial should not result in a upward risk of 3 or 4 times or more the sentence you'd receive for pleading guilty.