Fighting charges can take years of life, millions of dollars, and a rare resiliency in the face of an adversarial system designed to destroy you. Prosecutors and DAs use the threat of piling on additional charges and harsh mandatory minimums to force people to give in.
As a result, around 96% of defendants accept plea bargains. They go to prison without ever being proven guilty in a court of law. For the disproportionately poor and often black and latino arrestees, the constitutional right to a fair trial is a mocking fiction. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy put it in 2012, “it is insufficient simply to point to the guarantee of a fair trial… If there is no trial, there can be no fair trial.”
Even the government admits that up to 8% of those pleading are likely to be completely innocent. That’s at least 176,000 souls trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare. Given the common practice of misapplying charges to edge cases of the law, and the harshness of sentences even in situations where no one got hurt, the number of lost souls ripped from their lives and fed into this terrible machine are undoubtedly much higher.