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Thread: Supreme Court justice laments coercive nature of 'dark pleas'

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    Supreme Court justice laments coercive nature of 'dark pleas'

    Supreme Court justice laments coercive nature of 'dark pleas' - Post-conviction deals for inmates with innocence claims a common tactic for prosecutors in danger of losing at new trial.

    After professing their innocence to a 1998 murder for more than 23 years, Wayne Braddy and Karl Willis stood up in Judge Gary Cook’s courtroom on March 28 and accepted Alford pleas. Their aggravated murder charges were vacated and replaced with charges of involuntary manslaughter. Willis addressed Judge Cook, saying, “I am an innocent man, but I am accepting this plea so I can go home.” Within an hour of the hearing, he was on his way.

    The men gained their freedom, but they lost the legal ability to continue fighting for exoneration because they admitted that the state had enough evidence to convict them, even though they didn’t believe it.

    Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly has a name for the deal offered Braddy and Willis – a "dark plea." “It’s a plea offered to someone who has already been convicted," Donnelly said. "They are no longer under the presumption of innocence, and they are being offered freedom in exchange for clearing charges that have already been resolved. That’s the dark plea. It’s a level of coercion that I would describe as the legal equivalent of placing a gun to someone’s head and forcing them to confess to something that they don’t want to do.”

    There have been four deals in Lucas County in the past year that would qualify as dark pleas under Justice Donnelly’s definition:

    • Hector Alvarado, who was released in July after being convicted of a woman’s 2013 killing.
    • Braddy and Willis, who were released in March. They were in prison for a 1998 killing.
    • Stoney Thompson, released in November after being granted a new trial for three 2006 murders.
    Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates has yet to respond to a request for comment about her philosophy on post-conviction deals.

    According to data from University of Wisconsin law professor Keith Findley, 23% of inmates between 2010-2020 that had strong innocence motions determined by an innocence network were offered a plea deal. “That’s an extraordinarily high rate because that means those are cases where they are agreeing to vacate the conviction or where the conviction has already been vacated based on new evidence of innocence," Findley said. "And yet they’re trying to cling to some version of a guilty judgment." His research also found 41% of inmates rejected deals and continued trying to prove their innocence through the court. In those cases, he said every inmate ended up prevailing in court, meaning these were cases that prosecutors were on the verge of losing.

    For Donnelly, he said it’s important to ask why prosecutors would even offer a deal to someone who already has been convicted.
    Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect. -- Woody Hayes​

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    I would suggest as a general rule that Prosecutors pushing for plea bargaining are not out to do you any favor. They are far more concerned that a Jury Trial will not go their way or lose on appeal. A Dark Plea is even worse because it cements a verdict in place no matter how wrong it might be.
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