How Many Innocent People Enter Guilty Pleas?

Victoria Osteen, wife of televangelist Joel Osteen, is a defendant in a civil lawsuit that is currently being tried in Houston. According to the AP, the lawsuit stems from a fit Victoria allegedly threw “when a spill on the arm rest of [Victoria’s] first-class seat was not quickly cleaned up.”

While I initially read the story out of curiosity to learn more about a pastor’s wife gone wild, the impetus for this post is the portion of the AP story that says that Osteen paid an FAA fine due to the incident, but claimed that she did not do anything to deserve the fine:

The Federal Aviation Administration fined Victoria Osteen $3,000 for interfering with a crew member. The Osteens said they did not want to pay the fine but thought it would be the best way to put the incident behind them even though they felt they did nothing wrong. [More]

I have no opinion regarding whether Victoria Osteen should win her lawsuit, but if she didn’t do anything wrong, I am not surprised she paid the fine. In the criminal world, defendants plead guilty all the time to charges they would like to fight. Some do this because they are not willing to take their chances at trial because the State’s plea offer is too good to pass up. Some do this because, like Osteen, they would rather enter guilty pleas and get on with their lives than spend lots of time getting to know a judge. Still others do it for any number of other reasons.

People are particularly susceptible to taking a plea when a minor crime is involved. For example, suppose that a guy is pulled over for speeding. After a consent search, the police find a marijuana joint. Furthermore, suppose the guy is a straight arrow and would never smoke marijuana. Where did the joint come from? The guy’s younger hippie brother borrowed the car the day before the stop; the joint is his. The State offers the straight arrow a year of judicial supervision plus certain fines, fees, and costs. Supervision means that the case can be expunged two years after a judge discharges the guy from the sentence of supervision. The straight arrow knows that he isn’t going to do anything to jeopardize his eligibility for expungement and he has the money to pay the fines. He decides to plead guilty because he fears that if he goes to trial and is found guilty, the judge will punish him for going to trial by not sentencing him to judicial supervision.

So, how many innocent people enter guilty pleas to charges filed against them? Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

UPDATE: Osteen wins.

Jeremy J. Richey, Attorney at Law
© Jeremy J. Richey and The East Central Illinois Criminal Law & DUI Weblog, 2008-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.