Is It Rational or Not? When Innocents Plead Guilty in Child Sex Abuse Cases

By Zakirova, Eza Bella | Albany Law Review, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

Is It Rational or Not? When Innocents Plead Guilty in Child Sex Abuse Cases


Zakirova, Eza Bella, Albany Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

Any crime concerning a child victim is a matter of public concern and a concern of the criminal justice system as a whole. (1) When it comes to child sexual abuse, children are considered to be the "perfect" victims due to the challenges that surround them and their tendency to refrain them from reporting the crime. (2) To settle down the public's concern about the safety of their children, the federal government passed various acts, which provide federal funding and guidance to agencies including non-profit organizations and research centers for "prevention, assessment, investigation, prosecution, and treatment" of child abuse, including sexual abuse. (3) However, scholars and reporters have come to the conclusion that there are times when the jury, (4) and even judges, (5) tend to have a preconceived decision about defendants charged with child sex abuse. (6) In addition, a child sex abuse charges, by itself, can easily brand the individual and strip off his presumption of innocence before adjudication. (7) Therefore, defendants charged with the crime are more likely to plea bargain before adjudication since they fear a more severe punishment by the jury, (8) especially (1) those who have a prior criminal record or pending charges, (9)(2) underage or handicapped defendants that fall under the pressure of police investigations, and (3) those who are given limited time constraints to make a decision whether to plea tend to sign the plea deal. (10) Therefore, Part II will define child sexual abuse and guilty pleas/plea bargaining and examine its frequency in wrongful conviction cases for child sex abuse. Part III will discuss the rationality behind plea bargaining offers. Part IV will offer recommendations.

II. DEFINING PLEA BARGAINING AND CHILD SEX ABUSE

Plea bargaining, (11) an efficient tool used to reduce a court's workload, provides both parties an alternative means of resolving the dispute by permitting the parties to make a deal at the prosecutor's office, rather than having to appear in court. (12) Specifically, nearly ninety-five percent of criminal cases get resolved in plea bargaining. (13) It has become a panacea in the criminal justice system since it benefits everyone who takes part in the case. (14) Since the nineteenth century, plea bargaining has been the go-to solution to manage the growing caseloads of courts. (15) Therefore, the initial deal was that if the court gets to save time and close cases using guilty pleas, then the judge will grant a lenient sentence to the defendant who is pleading guilty. (16) That is why the main player in the case gets to be the prosecutor, and sometimes even the defense attorney, whose simple roles become pushing the defendant to plead guilty, despite him being innocent of the crime. (17) This push is effectuated by using one of the three types of plea bargaining: charge bargaining, (18) sentence bargaining, (19) or fact bargaining. (20) Furthermore, when it comes to child sex abuse cases, due to the case sensitivity, the defendants are often notified that the jury can be unpredictable since this particular crime does not leave anyone apathetic. (21) Yet, it is important to note that to date, there is a lack of data showing the procedures of offering and obtaining guilty pleas, and as a result, there is a lack of information regarding how these guilty pleas are obtained and whether they are induced or coerced. (22)

It is known that child sexual abuse is a crime where the perpetrator engages in "sexual conduct that is harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare." (23) This definition is broad enough to cover various types of acts a perpetrator can do, which can be considered child sexual abuse. (24) As of 2010, nearly 9.2% of children under the age of seventeen who were victims of a crime, were sexually assaulted at some time in their life. (25) Specifically, roughly "[one] in [five] girls and [one] in [twenty] boys is a victim of child sexual abuse" (26) and "62,939 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012. …

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