courts Judges jurys Lawyers plea bargains Restorative Justice

Restorative interventions needed for 97% cases where defendants plead guilt

Not Guilty: Are the Acquitted Innocent? is an excellent new book by Dan Givelber* Northeastern Law School professor, and Amy Farrell Northeastern Criminal Justice School professor.

In this easy to read book, the authors provide valuable information and insights into how judges and juries behave, and how understanding acquittals better (acquittals occur once in every 100 cases) could improve our justice system.

“The pervasive problem of crime fuels the belief that we do not prosecute the innocent,” the authors say.

Not only is it important that we understand what difference it makes if acquitted people are considered innocent, but the authors also address the rationale and effects of our plea bargain system.

While the book does not mention restorative justice, it provides rationale for restorative interventions at the sentencing stage of cases, and for corrections.

The book stunningly points out the fact that 97% of all convicted people pled guilt. The authors point out that: “only 3 percent of all criminal cases were actually resolved through trials in which judges or juries rendered verdicts of guilt or innocence. Of the small proportion of cases that did go to trial, approximately one-third resulted in acquittals. Thus, although acquittals represented only a tiny fraction of criminal dispositions. They represented a much larger proportion of those rare cases that did go to trial.”

Scary too is the policy justification for underfunding public defenders (compared to how prosecutors funded): “The belief that the vast majority of the acquitted really are guilty rests on the assumption that neither the police nor the prosecutors will pursue criminal charges against innocent people. The authors go on to quote legal scholar and judge Richard Posner who says “A bare-bones system for defense of indigent criminal defendants may be optimal.”

The book also reveals startling details about the overall attitudes of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, who are all far more likely to have biased views concerning race than jurors.

Everyone working in criminal court and criminal process policy makers should read this book. Thank you professors Givelber and Farrell.

*He happens to also be one of the funniest law professors ever. He taught me torts in 1980 and I will always remember the innocent champagne cork popping off a boat that resulted in a series of hysterical events that made up the facts of my first law exam (and something I think about every time I see a bottle of champagne being opened).

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