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updated 1/22/2004 5:03:48 PM ET 2004-01-22T22:03:48

A defendant's first court appearance is usually an arraignment -- an opportunity to hear their charges and often to enter a plea. 

Lawyers always tell their clients, “Plead not guilty and we‘ll assess your defense later.”  And yet, most of these same defendants eventually plead guilty to something. 

To many it may sound like semantics.  Some will say “Oh, come on, it‘s just a procedural hearing.  What are you making such a big deal about it for?” But I think it's just another example of the legal system feeling like a dishonest game. 

I believe it‘s one of the many changes needed to help restore faith in the legal system.  “The New York Times” times reported on a man who allegedly confessed in gory detail to killing his wife and then trying to make it look like a car accident.  The next sentence reads, “he pleaded not guilty in superior court.”  Doesn‘t anyone find that a bit jarring? 

It‘s always possible it was a false confession or that it was coerced.  But at least statistically, it‘s unlikely. Does that mean this guy shouldn‘t have all the rights afforded to any criminal defendant? No. And I’m not suggesting that he should have to plead guilty to murder either.  All I‘m saying is it‘s time to change the language: Why not have judges ask, “Do you want to plead guilty at this time?”

When they say "no," the case moves toward. But I think “not guilty” suggests to the world “I didn‘t do it and my lawyer is going to prove it.”

It‘s just another example of the legal system feeling like something other than a search for the truth.

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