Giving Compass' Take:

· Jerry Metcalf shares his experience going through a jury trial and how sentence length and the concept of 'justice' differ between plea deals and trials. 

· How can the system be made more just? How can donors support efforts to reform the US justice system and address the discrepancies in sentencing?

· Read more about jury trials and the US criminal justice system.

Back in 1995, when I was 20 and very, very stupid, I was arrested and charged with open murder. That’s a term used in Michigan to mean that a prosecutor can wait to decide whether they'll try to convict you of first- or second-degree murder, or manslaughter.

Sometime early in that process, my lawyer passed on a message from the district attorney representing our great state. They wanted to know whether I'd testify against my co-defendant, he told me. Having been the one who actually committed the crime, I politely declined. I often wonder how many guilty men and women across this nation snatch up those types of deals each and every day, condemning who knows how many innocent souls to decades (or possibly lifetimes) of abuse, neglect and despair behind bars.

A week or so later, my lawyer told me the state had offered a new deal. He said they were willing to drop first-degree murder if I’d plead guilty to second-degree murder. In return, I would receive a sentence of 18 to 40 years in prison, plus two years for the firearm I’d used.

My lawyer informed me that under no circumstances was I to take such a deal.

Read the full article about the US criminal justice system and jury trials by Jerry Metcalf at The Marshall Project.