Chris Hedges: Legalizing Tyranny

It’s worse for poor defendants, but even middle-class people who refuse to plea-bargain get shafted by the system. A former colleague of mine was convicted in a bench trial on the thinnest, most contradictory evidence imaginable, and the judge immediately sentenced him to life. If he’d pled guilty, he’d have gotten five years. If you want a trial–jury or bench–in America these days, you literally have to risk your life.

Vox Populi

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The students I teach in prison who have the longest sentences are, almost without exception, the ones who demanded a jury trial. If everyone charged with a crime had a jury trial, the court system would implode. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges use those who insist on a jury trial—often people who did not commit the crime with which they were charged—as examples. Their sentences, frequently life sentences, are grim reminders as to why it is in the best interests of a defendant, even if he or she did not commit the crime, to take a plea agreement. Ninety-four percent of state-level felony convictions and 97 percent of federal felony convictions are the result of guilty pleas. And studies by groups such as Human Rights Watchconfirm the punitive nature of jury trials: Those who go to jury trials get an addition 11 years, on…

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