Imagine you were wrongly accused of murder. The case seemed to be rigged from the start. The eyewitness description of the assailant was a 5’7” Hispanic man, and you’re a 6’2” black man. You go to trial, assuming the justice system will do its job—but it fails you too. You’re sentenced to 30 years in prison.
You hire a new lawyer to try to appeal the decision—a process which takes over a decade—while you lose the best years of your life behind bars. He gathers new information, finds other key witnesses who were never used in the first trial and even uncovers evidence that a corrupt Chicago police officer framed you.
But before your case goes to trial, the prosecution offers you a plea deal: If you plead guilty to the lesser charge of second degree murder, you can skip the trial and walk away a free man.
What would you do? You know you’re innocent, but you have also lost all faith in the criminal justice system. If you maintain your innocence, you could go to trial a second time only to face two more decades behind bars. It’s a torturous decision.
The above case is the story of two brothers from Northwest Chicago. But this is not a one-off story. Such cases are alarmingly common in the U.S. criminal justice system. 95 percent of all people accused of felonies in this country accept plea deals—even when they didn’t commit the crime. This rate is the highest in our nation’s history.
The decision to accept or decline a plea deal is always personal—and no one can make it for you. However, if you decide to go to trial, it’s important to get a lawyer who won’t phone it in. You need someone who will critically examine the reasons behind mistaken eyewitness identification or investigate the motivations of corrupt police officers. Having an attorney with this type of relentless perseverance can make or break your future.