Most people don’t realize that the severe penalties that are attached to many crimes in North Carolina and in the United States create real pressure on defendants to plead guilty, even when they are not guilty of the crime.
Ironically, offering a defendant a very “sweet” or favorable plea deal can have the power to pressure the defendant into taking a plea offer because the risk of going to trial and being convicted is far too much to think about.
In some countries, the plea offers are limited so that they can not be too favorable. This has the effect of forcing the prosecutor to present a realistic set of charges before the begins. In the United States, too often the prosecutors pile up charge after charge after charge in the hopes that an avalanche of charges creates pressure on the defendant to accept a comparatively “sweet” or favorable plea offer.
It’s not uncommon in serious felonies for a defendant to face dozen felony charges, which stacked (which is how could be sentenced) would mean a life sentence. Someone who’s 35, never in trouble before with the law, would effectively be put away for the rest of his life.
In such a situation, many defendants take such deals.
My point is that it is so common as to be pretty non-controversial that the disparities between plea offers and potential sentences are so great that in a very significant number of cases, defendants take pleas because they’ve spent extraordinary periods of time in jail awaiting trial, because the plea deal looks so good, and because the risks of going to trial even when there’s very real doubt that the prosecution could make its case are too great.
In fact, it helps the prosecution a great deal to keep defendants in jail awaiting trial for many months so that they have put time toward a plea sentence. This is because North Carolina has no speedy trial statute, so unlike, say, NY, there’s only the federal constitutional right at stake, which kicks only after years into the process.