11 January 2009

Comment Cavalcade (3):
Denying the Immorality of Pleading Not Guilty to an Offense Committed

More Commentary:
It is not possible to plead not guilty when one is guilty because one is not guilty until the government lawyers have proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is the right of every American to force the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, no matter what the particular circumstances might be.
Yes, that would be the correct if my discussion was about civil rights and criminal procedure, instead of personal moral responsibility. As I stated in the initial post, the system doesn't care about the defendant's personal moral responsibility as it relates to his plea and the guilt/innocence part of the trial. Nevertheless, the fact that we have chosen as a society to implement a criminal justice system based upon the idea that "it is better that 10 (Blackstone) or 100 (Franklin) guilty go free rather than one innocent be jailed" does not speak to the personal morality of the defendant's plea. A system based upon the principle above and having infinite resources and time would ideally forgo a plea and try each defendant to force the prosecution to prove his case. Of course, the system does not have infinite resources and time.
If one person pleads guilty, he permits the government to throw more resources at its other cases. The government prosecutes factually guilty people and factually innocent people. It can’t tell the difference. The more resources the government throws at a case, the more likely it is to convict that accused. So by pleading guilty the factually guilty accused makes it more likely that a factually innocent person will be convicted. That sounds immoral to me.
I'm pretty sure that Mark's tweaking me with this one because I just can't see him advising his client "Yeah, Bob, I know they're offering you 5 years on a murder charge despite having video tape of you doing it and your admission of the crime to 17 people before the police even arrested you. However, you need to think about how many resources the State will have to waste on you instead of on other people charged with crimes. The State might not have enough resources to convict an innocent man if you plead not guilty and make them waste those resources. It's the right thing to do." I'm sure he'd love for all you other defense attorneys to do that so there are less resources to be used against his clients, but I don't see him doing that to his. Nevertheless, let's assume his client came to that thought all by himself. Would he be correct? Would it be moral to plead not guilty because it would make it harder to convict an innocent person?

No. Well, it would be if that was as far as it goes. However, there's a pretty obvious flaw not addressed in the model set out by Mark. By pleading not guilty a defendant takes away resources from cases in which the defendant did it. No matter how you look at the criminal justice system there are far more people in the system who did what they are accused of than didn't. So, if a plea of not guilty by a murderer makes it 5% less likely that the prosecution is able to convict the next 10 murderers and 9 of them are factually guilty then the initial defendant has done more harm than good. So, instead of being just individually morally wrong the defendant is also wrong for the extenuated damage he has done to society.

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