Taking a Plea Bargain Doesn’t Imply Guilt

Reality Winner, who has a rather unfortunate name considering her current circumstances, has plead guilty to alerting the public to surveillance being perpetrated against them by the National Security Administration (NSA):

A former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who admitted passing secret information to the media has been sentenced to more than five years.

Reality Winner, 26, had faced up to 10 years in prison, but this was reduced to 63 months under a plea deal.

I won’t use the word guilty in her case because I think that it’s time to admit that if somebody is found “guilty” because they took a plea bargain, they probably only admitted guilt because they were under duress and since no trial occurred, they weren’t proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Imagine being trapped in a similar situation. Say a prosecutor is threatening you with 10 years in prison if you’re found guilty by a legal system that is heavily stacked against you. However, the prosecutor is willing to cut you a deal. If you make their life easier by admitting guilt, you will only suffer five years in prison. Can you say for certain that you would choose to take your case to court?

Spend a bit of time really considering the scenario. The court where your case will be tried is part of the same government that you’re accused of wronging. The judge who will preside over your case is also an employee of that government. The prosecution will try to get any jurors who might be sympathetic to your cause removed from the pool and the judge will then lie to the jurors by instructing them that they must rule on the letter of the law. Oh, and the agency that you’re accused of wronging controls one of the world’s largest surveillance apparatuses and there is no telling how much information they have about you (this is especially important because the reason you’re accused of wrongdoing is that you were trying to inform the public about the agency’s illegal use of its surveillance powers). It’s easy to see why an accused individual might consider that an unwinnable situation.

People take plea bargains all the time because they look at situations like this and realize that their chances of winning are almost nonexistent, not because they’re actually guilty of the crimes they’re accused of perpetrating.