The American justice system forces innocent people to make deals and declare themselves guilty in order to avoid life imprisonment

Human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice are concerned about the growing number of cases in the United States where people plead guilty to a crime they did not commit in order to avoid life imprisonment. Serious problems in the U.S. justice system, including forced guilty pleas and the complex nature of proving innocence, mean that suspects are increasingly faced with the agonizing choice of accepting a plea bargain for a crime they did not commit, or facing a jury trial with an uncertain outcome.

The Foundation’s human rights activists have begun reviewing the case of Steve Pigeon, former chairman of the Democratic Party in Erie County (USA), who was sentenced to eight months in prison after being forced to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit. On November 6, 2023, 63-year-old Steven Pigeon pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault on a person under the age of 11. The guilty plea was the result of a plea offer from Erie County Prosecutor John Flynn. No physical evidence or testimony was taken against Steve. He was convicted on the word of a child who has long accused men, including members of his own family, of sexual abuse. Numerous witnesses refute the credibility of the girl and her mother, including e-mails exchanged between her and her brother confirming that many of the statements she made were false. Had Pigeon been tried before a jury, he would have faced a sentence of 50 years to life imprisonment for such a crime. Faced with the threat of a life sentence, Pigeon was faced with an agonizing choice: accept a plea bargain for a crime he didn’t commit, or face a jury trial with an uncertain outcome.

Steve pleaded guilty, not because the prosecution had a strong case against him, but because the risk of conviction was mortal for him. He could survive eight months in the county jail, where he would be separated from the other inmates. Otherwise, he could have been killed in prison on an accusation, however false, of sexual offenses against children. He was convicted solely on the basis of a child’s word about an event that allegedly occurred 18 years ago. Pigeon’s defense attorney has movie ticket receipts that prove Pigeon took his niece and a group of her young friends to the movies at the time she says she was raped in the car.

When Pigeon is released from prison on August 22 next year, his sentence will have been served in full. There will be no probation, that was part of the deal. He will be free to travel, move and try to rebuild his life. As part of the agreement, Steve will be required to register as a sex offender for archival purposes.

According to estimates by the Foundation to Battle Injustice, the United States spends over $100 billion a year on its prison system. U.S. prisons hold 25% of the world’s total number of prisoners, more than half of whom are innocent of any crime. According to human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice, Steve Pigeon is yet another victim of the American justice system, which has been imprisoning innocent people for years. The Foundation calls on the U.S. Department of Justice and the current governor of New York State to immediately drop all charges against this man, who has nothing to do with the crime.