In Theory- Opinion
Americans are bargaining away their innocence, January 20, 2016
By Tim Lynch
Each week, In Theory takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives. This week we’re talking about the right to a fair trial. Need a primer? Catch up here.
The presumption of innocence helps to combat prejudice and prejudging in the
criminal justice system. But because plea bargains have supplanted trials in
our criminal justice system, that presumption does not apply to most cases in
the U.S. . United States
Prejudice against the accused is quite common. Consider your own experience: If you see that a police car has pulled a driver over to the side of a highway, what do you make of the situation? Most people probably think to themselves, “Hmm, that driver was probably caught speeding.” Similarly, if you heard that one of your neighbors had been arrested, you would likely say to yourself, “I wonder what crime he committed.” It is a common reaction to presume that the authorities had a good reason to detain or arrest someone.
[Other perspectives: The presumption of innocence exists in theory, not reality]
To protect the innocent, however, the law demands that incriminating evidence be presented in court. The Constitution says every person accused of a crime has the right to an impartial jury trial. If the jury is persuaded that a person is guilty, then that person can lose his liberty and be punished. That is a sensible procedure for a just system, and it is why Americans have taken pride in our Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, the system that is described by our school teachers and that Americans see on television and in the movies is now defunct. Jury trials are now rare events in the
In fact, about 95 percent of the cases moving
through the system will not go to trial. The overwhelming majority of cases
will be resolved by plea bargains. United States