Founded in 2007, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission examines wrongful conviction claims. 30% of the claims presented to the Commission involve guilty pleas. Now, prosecutors are trying to block cases from being reexamined if the defendant pleaded guilty, even if there is compelling evidence for his or her innocence.
Innocent people can plead guilty for a number of reasons: they may be coerced by law enforcement or told that there is incriminating evidence against them that would lead to a conviction at a jury trial. They may settle for a reduced sentence out of fear of a stricter one, even if they did not commit the crime of which they were accused. The judicial system is set up to prioritize plea bargains because they take up less time and resources. However, they can lead to situations where an innocent person is in prison, and blocking guilty pleas from being re-examined does nothing to right any wrongs that stem from flaws in the system.
Nationally, nearly 25% of DNA exonerations involve a defendant who pleaded guilty or gave some type of incriminating evidence. Preventing North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission from reexamining guilty pleas would cut off a legitimate means to fix flaws in the judicial system, and would make it more difficult for the wrongfully convicted to get the justice that they deserve.