‘Why Innocent People Plead Guilty’ topic of Oct. 6 lecture

October 2, 2014 | Events, UToday, Law
By Rachel Phipps

Jed S. Rakoff, a senior U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York and author, will deliver a free, public talk in the Cannon Lecture Series titled “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty” Monday, Oct. 6, at noon in the Law Center McQuade Law Auditorium.



The New York Times recently described Rakoff as “a maverick jurist who picked a three-year fight to make the Securities and Exchange Commission tougher on a Wall Street bank,” and Rolling Stone deemed him as “a sort of legal hero of our time.”

In his lecture, Rakoff will show that criminal justice in the United States bears no relationship to what the founding fathers contemplated or what is seen on television. It has become overwhelmingly a system of plea bargaining, largely controlled by prosecutors, who can make it inordinately risky for even an innocent defendant to go to trial. As a result, Rakoff contends, as many as 10,000 or more innocent people are in prison because they plead guilty to “lesser” offenses in order to avoid the risk of being convicted of crimes carrying much longer terms.

After describing the current state of affairs, Rakoff will suggest some possible solutions.

“Judge Rakoff has been willing to question long-standing legal policies and practices in ways that have prompted change,” Daniel J. Steinbock, dean of the College of Law, said. “His take on sentencing guidelines and the plea bargaining they encourage is sure to be both stimulating and influential.”

Rakoff has been a senior U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York since 1996. Before joining the federal bench, he served as law clerk to Judge Abraham Freedman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and as an assistant U.S. attorney, where he was chief of the Business & Securities Fraud Prosecutions Unit in the Southern District of New York.

He also was a litigation partner at the law firms Mudge, Rose and Fried, Frank.

In addition, he is an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, where, since 1988, he has taught courses on white collar crime, class actions, the interplay of civil and criminal litigation, and science and the courts.

Rakoff received his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College, a master’s degree from the University of Oxford, and his law degree from Harvard Law School. He was awarded honorary degrees from Swarthmore College and Saint Francis University.

The Cannon Lecture Series was established in 1980 in memory of Toledo attorney Joseph A. Cannon through a generous gift from his family and friends. The lecture series is intended to provide an opportunity for the College of Law, the University and the greater Toledo community to host individuals of national prominence who, in discussing questions of law and society, will emphasize the humanistic dimension as well as the limitations of the legal system.

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