Individuals facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania and around the country who are unable to afford bail are far more likely to be found guilty, according to a team of researchers from Harvard, Stanford and Princeton universities. After studying administrative court and tax data, the researchers found that criminal defendants who are granted pretrial release are 14 percent less likely to get convicted and 10.8 percent less likely to enter into negotiated plea arrangements.
While some defendants are denied bail because they are considered flight risks or pose a threat to the community, the research team determined that poverty was the most common reason for pretrial detention. The typical offender earned less than $7,000 in the year before they were arrested, according to the study. Many of these defendants cannot post bail even when the sums are lowered.
At any given time, about half a million people are behind bars in America due to pretrial detention. Being unable to post bail often fuels frustration and nurtures a deep desire for freedom. This may be why individuals who have been denied bail seem to be far more willing to plead guilty and agree to a negotiated plea in return for more lenient treatment.
Criminal defense attorneys advocate on behalf of their clients in a justice system that is far from perfect. However, the U.S. Constitution provides equal protection to all, and attorneys may point this out to defendants who feel that they have little hope of an equitable outcome. Attorneys could also argue vigorously against pretrial detention when their clients face incarceration simply because they lack the means to post bail.