why do so many

Innocent people plead guilty

To crimes they didn't commit?

watch their stories

“I was told by a forensic psychiatrist that they didn’t expect me to live past 40, because I was going to kill myself.”

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Rodney Roberts

Time Served: 18 Years

In 1996, Rodney Roberts was arrested for assault following a dispute with a friend. He was held in custody for a few days expecting release when he was arraigned for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl. The police said she had identified him in a photo array. Following the advice of his attorney, Roberts pleaded guilty to kidnapping to avoid a harsher sentence.

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Christopher Ochoa

Time Served: 13 Years

Chris Ochoa pleaded guilty to the 1988 murder of Nancy DePriest, implicating his rommmate, Richard Danziger, in the process. It was later discovered that Chris' confession was coerced and that neither man had anything to do with the crime.

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Ada JoAnn Taylor

Time Served: 19 years

JoAnn Taylor was one of six people convicted of raping and killing a 68-year-old woman in Beatrice, Nebraska. She agreed with prosecutors to plead guilty and testify at the trial of co-defendant Joseph White about her alleged role in the murder. In exchange for her testimony, she was sentenced to 10 to 40 years in prison. She was exonerated in 2009 after spending 19 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit and has since been compensated with her co-defendants, now known as the "Beatrice Six."

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Brian Banks

Time Served: 5 Years

Brian Banks was exonerated after his accuser contacted him on Facebook and admitted she had fabricated the entire story against him. He spent 5 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and was exonerated in 2012 with the help of the California Innocence Project.

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AMERICA'S GUILTY PLEA PROBLEM

95%

of felony convictions in the U.S. are obtained through guilty pleas

360

exonerees pleaded guilty to crimes they didn't commit

65%

of all 360 exonerees who pleaded guilty were people of color

84%

DNA exoneration plea cases where the alternate perpetrator was identified

Judge Jed Rakoff's Message

Actor Hill Harper's Message

Actor Hill Harper

Watch award-winning actor and Innocence Ambassador Hill Harper explain why America has a guilty plea problem. Join him in the fight to stop wrongful conviction.

Join the movement

Judge Jed S. Rakoff

US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff is one of the leading experts on the guilty plea phenomenon. Watch him explain how the current state of the guilty plea system arose.

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Innocent people are pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. It happens to thousands each year, and there's no telling how many are still behind bars.

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It’s hard to believe that the criminal justice system in the United States can be so flawed that innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, but it’s almost impossible to fathom that some of those innocent people actually agreed to plea bargains—reduced sentences in exchange for agreeing to a conviction. It makes no sense. Who would do that? Why?

Yet it happens. No one knows how often. Nearly 11% of the nation’s 350 DNA exonerations involve people who pleaded guilty to serious crimes they didn’t commit, and the National Registry of Exonerations has identified 360 cases of innocent people who pleaded guilty. When that many innocent people are agreeing to their own wrongful convictions, it is time to recognize that something is very wrong. The plea system is not a bargain, it’s a problem--at least for the innocent.

A system that forces or induces innocent people to plead guilty is unfair, unjust and runs counter to the Constitution’s guarantee of a right to a fair trial. Prosecutors who threaten scared youth with the death penalty; incentives that make a plea to something you didn’t do seem like a rational choice; defense lawyers who give terrible advice; and judges who fail to serve as a check on the truth all benefit from pleas which keep an overburdened system moving. And there’s little incentive for challenging the status quo. If every person charged with a crime demanded a trial, the system would be completely broken in a matter of hours. Our system relies on plea bargains.

Realistically, there are no easy solutions to fixing the problem. But for the sake of the many innocent people trapped by a broken system, we must do something. The Innocence Project and more than 50 members of the Innocence Network across the country are committed to exposing this problem. Over the next months, you will hear first-hand accounts from the wrongly convicted who explain the overwhelming pressure to enter guilty pleas to crimes they didn’t commit, and we will provide commentary and suggestions from experts on how to begin fixing the problem.

But change only comes when the the public demands it. We invite you to join our campaign to fix America’s guilty plea problem. Help us spread the word about this injustice, and when the time is right, call on lawmakers to protect the innocent who are trapped in an overwhelmed and broken system.

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The Innocence Project is a national litigation/public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing, and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

The Innocence Network is a group of independent organizations that exonerate and support the innocent, and redress the causes of wrongful conviction.