Once an innocent suspect confesses to a crime, the chances that the suspect will be convicted increase exponentially. As Richard Leo and Richard Ofshe have demonstrated, the consequences of a confession result in higher charges, higher bail, less generous plea offers, higher rates of conviction at trial, stiffer sentences (a suspect's recantation is viewed as a lack of remorse), less chance of prevailing on appeal, difficulty in getting post-conviction DNA testing in some jurisdictions, and great difficulty in winning a post-conviction hearing. These obstacles sometimes lead attorneys to recommend and suspects to take Alford pleas or no lo contendere pleas which are treated as guilty pleas but enable the suspect to maintain innocence and preserve issues relating to the confession on appeal. The pressures to enter such pleas may be even greater after a successful result on appeal or at post-conviction where the defendant's conviction is reversed and he or she faces the prospect of a retrial. Here the no lo plea allows the suspect to get out of jail and avoid trial (but essentially forfeit any civil suit against the police officers who coerced the false confession). It is a deal with the devil but one that many wrongfully convicted are willing to take. Having been burned by the criminal justice system once, few are willing to take the risk of being burned again. One of the "innocence" related reforms that needs to be looked at is the use of no lo pleas in cases where the defendant is actually innocent. I'm not yet sure what the solution is but it is a discussion that needs to take place.
A recent Pennsylvania case illustrates the dilemma. Tiffany Pritchett, after serving 6 years in prison for a crime she maintains she did not commit, recently pled no contest to a third degree murder charge, a decision which enabled her to be released with time-served as opposed to waiting out appeals and a retrial in her case. Pritchett's 1994 conviction for first degree murder was reversed after a trial court judge held that her attorney was ineffective for allowing her to take a polygraph exam while he went to a football game. Ms. Pritchett's case was the subject of an investigative report by Bill Moushey and several of his journalism students at the Innocence Institute at Point Park in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.postgazette.com/pg/06285/729303-58.stm