Last week major media sources published stories claiming that a woman was guilty of being a spy for Russia. However, if you spent a few seconds reading the articles, you quickly learned that she wasn’t proven guilty by a jury. She signed a plea bargain:
A Russian woman accused in the US of acting as an agent for the Kremlin to infiltrate political groups has pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.
The key part in that sentence is, “in a deal with prosecutors.”
Imagine you’re brought before a prosecutor. The first thing they show you is the long list of charges that they’re bringing against you. If you’re found guilty of even some of the charges, you’re looking at decades behind bars. However, the prosecutor is willing to cut you a deal. If you sign an admission of guilt, you will only face five years in prison. You know that you’re innocent by do you believe that you’ll be able to convince a jury of that? Even after the judge gives the jury instructions that will stack the odds against you? Even if the prosecutor has an unfair advantage because their transgressions against court procedure often go unpunished? Even though many of the laws you’re accused of violating are so vaguely written that it’s nearly impossible for anybody to argue their innocence against them? Wouldn’t it be better to take the five years in prison rather than the very likely decades you’ll face if this case goes to a rigged court?
These are the questions one must ask themselves when a prosecutor puts a deal in front of them. In my opinion it’s one of the most corrupt aspects of the American judicial system. At a minimum I wish news agencies would reflect this ridiculousness by clearly stating in both the headline and the article that the suspect wasn’t found guilty but merely signed a plea bargain.
None of this is to say that this woman isn’t guilty as Hell. She very well may be a Russian spy. But I don’t believe signing a piece of paper under duress is the same as proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.