In order to obtain a parole, pardon or some form of clemency, admissions of guilt, acceptance of responsibility and expressions of remorse are considered as the most important factors in granting liberty from confinement. Their purpose is apparent and for the guilty they pose no barrier; for the innocent they may impose an insurmountable one. The guilty seeking release may feign remorse, but feigning guilt for the innocent demands too much of a sacrifice. Stories abound of those wrongfully convicted being denied release because of their insistence upon their innocence. The pressure to lie and admit guilt must be staggering. Some succumb. There are anecdotes of those who finally do and are denied release because they have claimed their innocence in prior applications and are thus deemed untruthful and their expressions of remorse insincere.
I recently became interested in the topic because for the first time in over 60 years in the law, I supported the clemency application for a group of defendants known as the IRP6 from Colorado. They have persistently and consistently proclaimed their innocence, and as a result, I found it difficult in supporting their application to comply with the standards and qualifications for a clemency petition. The basis for my support is set forth in numerous prior articles -- the most recent being a blog on HuffPost.
The pressure upon the innocent to lie and admit guilt exists not only at the end of the process when seeking liberty after conviction and confinement, but at the beginning when the possibility of confinement first looms. I expect that the percentage of persons wrongfully convicted is rather small, but the statistics give little comfort to those who are confined, nor should it comfort our society as a whole. But I suspect that many more innocent persons (the poor, the uneducated, minorities) are imprisoned because of plea bargains, coerced by threats of long imprisonment and misrepresentations of the evidence against them.
Those persons do not face the dilemma of having to admit guilt in order to receive a pardon or parole, because they have already been compelled to lie and admit their guilt (furnishing evidence of their guilt that can only have been spoon-fed to them). As a result, we have bookends of institutionalized deceit at both ends of our criminal justice system. At either end, the innocent are convinced and coerced into admitting their guilt in order to minimize their terms of imprisonment although they deserve none at all.