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I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

We have hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of innocent people who are in prison, right now, for crimes they never committed because they were coerced into pleading guilty.

This isn’t a statement from a criminal defense attorney. Jed Rakoff is a United States District Court judge, who spent seven years practicing before his court in lower Manhattan as a federal prosecutor. Last month he told USC law students and faculty that thousands upon thousands of innocent people agree to plead guilty and go to jail for a shorter period of time, because prosecutors threaten that if they take their cases to trial the government will make sure they spend dozens of years to life in prison instead.

One of the bitterest experiences for a lawyer is to watch his client, who he knows is innocent, plead guilty because the client has been bullied and cowered by a prosecutor.

I have seen, up close, a prosecutor who knows she has no case on a major offense charged, offer a ridiculously light sentence, yet one with consequences that will affect an innocent person for the rest of his life, in personally shameful ways, because a conviction for something was more important than justice. I have seen that innocent person grab what he thought was a lifeline, because he was made to believe fighting the charge would only guarantee life in prison.

These “lifelines” are thrown out every day, in every court in America, by prosecutors with more power than wisdom and compassion.

That is not the justice system our ancestors envisioned, not the justice system nearly a million Americans have given their lives to protect, not the justice system I want my children and my children’s children to inherit.


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