Why Some Innocent Defendants Plead Guilty–And Consequences They Face


A criminal conviction even for a minor offense can stigmatize defendants for the rest of their lives, Robin Steinberg of Bronx Defenders tells NPR.
“Sometimes when you’re facing the … decision about ‘do I plead guilty and go home or do I stay in the system?’, that’s hard to think about what the impacts are down the road,” she says. “Traditional public defender models really focus exclusively on the criminal cases, but we need to really define what we do much more broadly so that we can actually also empower clients with the information about all those other areas that are impacted.”

Some defendants plead guilty when they are not “because they can’t come back to court over and over again,” Steinberg adds. “People sometimes plead guilty because they can’t afford to post the bail that’s been set by a judge, and so they plead guilty so they can go home. They plead guilty because they’re scared. They plead guilty because they’re humiliated and demoralized and don’t want to keep coming back.” She says that defenders should make sure clients “understand all the ways in which their lives and their family’s lives will be impacted, people can make a terrible mistake by pleading guilty even to a minor misdemeanor.”

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