Brief filed: 11/24/2020
South Carolina v. Robinson
South Carolina Court of Appeals; Case No. 2018-001269
Kenneth Robinson’s case is a quintessential example of why people plead guilty under the threat of a trial tax. Kenneth withstood the immense pressure to plead guilty. A child of only fifteen, charged with murder under the “hand of one, hand of all” doctrine, he exercised his right to a jury trial, foregoing a twenty-three-year offer to plea to manslaughter. He refused to relinquish his right to appeal, foregoing a thirty-year plea offer following guilty verdicts at trial. He paid the price. Most defendants plead guilty to avoid the trial tax; Kenneth went to trial, and the trial tax was levied against him in the form of a fifty-year sentence. By contrast, Kenneth’s co-defendants pleaded guilty and received significantly shorter sentences. NACDL is uniquely positioned to observe the criminal justice system. Over time, based on empirical data and the experiences of its members, NACDL has developed an understanding of the trial tax—the reality that individuals who choose to exercise their Sixth Amendment right to trial face exponentially higher sentences if they invoke the right to trial and lose. It is NACDL’s position that the trial tax is antithetical to the American concept of justice because it diminishes jury trials, undermines the legal system’s goal of truth-seeking, relieves the government of its burden of proof, contributes to wrongful convictions, and disproportionately hurts young people. Kenneth Robinson’s case in particular starkly reveals the dangers to a defendant who chooses to exercise his constitutional right to trial.
Christopher Adams and Meredith D. McPhail, Adams & Bischoff, Charleston, SC.