Spectrum of Innocence

Cathleen Burnett, University of Missouri - Kansas City

Criminal courts avoid the term 'innocent' by accepting a not guilty plea from the accused rather than a plea of innocence. Although guilty pleas are most common, not guilty pleas that go to trial are also very likely to result in conviction. Such high conviction rates are made possible by the opportunity that juries have to find defendants guilty of lesser included offenses. A defendant who is not guilty of first degree murder, still may be judged guilty of second degree murder because the elements of the proof of guilt of those lesser crimes are imbedded in the greater offense. So the accused may be not guilty of the original charge, but not completely innocent either.

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Updated 05/20/2006