It’s become very common for people to plead guilty, even when they’re innocent, so that they can get shorter sentences or get out of pre-trial detention.
The Oklahoma City Police Department is dealing with embarrassment on a nationwide scale after a local man who pleaded guilty on charges of possession of cocaine was found to have actually been arrested for carrying powdered milk that he had gotten from a local food bank.
Cody Gregg, 26, pled guilty to trafficking drugs on October 8 before being sentenced to 15 years in prison for his crime, according to documents from an Oklahoma County court.
The man had been arrested in August when police detained him for not having lights on the rear of his bicycle, reports USA Today. During the arrest, Gregg—who was on probation at the time—attempted to flee officers.
According to an affidavit obtained by the Oklahoman, the homeless man tried to jump off the bike and escape on foot before officers eventually detained him. At this point, officers found “a large amount of white powder substance” in a plastic baggy within a coffee can, along with a scale, inside his backpack.
At the time, the officer “believed” the substance “to be cocaine” based on “training and experience” before confirming that the substance was, in fact, the common powdered cocaine hydrochloride found on the streets.
Subsequent lab testing revealed that the powder was actually powdered milk, which the defendant said he had acquired from a local food pantry.
While Gregg had initially pled not guilty to the felony charge of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, his grueling two months in pre-trial detention at the Oklahoma County Jail forced him to reconsider his plea.
The Washington Post reports that Gregg told authorities he had pled guilty only so that he could leave the jail, which is said to have some of the most dismal conditions of any jail in the country, after spending weeks there for a crime he knew he didn’t commit.
According to the Oklahoman, at least six inmates have died at the jail just this year. The facility is plagued by plumbing issues, mold, and leaking walls.
Oh, for those who don’t know, the towering monstrosity in the picture happens to be the Oklahoma County Jail. It’s widely considered one of the worst in the country.
Any innocent person would consider pleading guilty just to get out.
— Jason Lollman ⚖️ (@jdlollman) October 15, 2019
Last week, Gregg was sentenced to a 15 year jail sentence, but following the release of the lab report showing he wasn’t in possession of cocaine, he withdrew his guilty plea. The case was finally dismissed on Friday.
Tulsa-based pubic defender Jason Lollman told NBC News that it’s actually very common for clients to plead guilty even when they’re innocent, so they can get out of jail rather than being “forced to sit and wait” as their case makes its way through the criminal justice system.
“The cash bail system, posting cash bail, is a problem.
If they can’t afford an attorney, they’re not going to be able to post bond to get out.”
Lollman added that there have even been “times where I’ve actively talked a client out of taking a plea bargain,” but “if the client wants to take that plea, I really can’t stand in the way of it.” The attorney explained:
“Sometimes it’s like we, the attorneys, have more stamina than the clients do … But that’s because we’re on the outside and they’re in jail.”
A report from the National Registry of Exonerations said:
“Innocent defendants who plead guilty almost always get lighter sentences than those who are convicted at trial—that’s why they plead guilty.”
The report added that “innocent defendants who plead guilty have an exceptionally hard time convincing anybody of their innocence,” resulting in defendants finding themselves unable to be exonerated.
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