- Why Most Criminal Cases Do Not Make it to Trial
Why Most Criminal Cases Do Not Make it to Trial
Every person accused of a crime has the right to a trial by jury, but why do most cases never make it to trial? For one, many perceive going to trial as risky. You have no way to predict how a jury will decide and you could face significant time behind bars if they find you guilty. As a result, nearly all criminal cases end in a guilty plea stemming from a plea deal.
In 2018, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) published a report that examines the decline in jury trials and the rise in plea bargains. NACDL findings reported that a defendant only chose trial in less than three percent of cases. To put this into perspective, 20 percent of those arrested 30 years ago opted for a jury trial.
The “Trial Penalty”
The NACDL believes the underlying reason for most cases not going to trial is the “trial penalty.” As mentioned earlier, going to trial is risky. To cut back on the risk of losing and facing a significantly greater sentence, many individuals surrender and accept a lesser sentence.
An alarming outcome of the rise in plea deals is the number of innocent people who plead guilty to crimes they did not commit to avoid jail time. According to the report, there is sufficient evidence that criminal defendants, especially federal defendants, are being coerced to plead guilty because the penalty for going to trial is too high.
The association believes there is a solution to this problem, but not a straightforward one. The report offers many recommendations to this issue such as providing the defense with full discovery, amending certain federal laws and repealing mandatory minimum sentences.
Plea bargaining is not a new concept. The arrangement became prevalent in the early 20th century when crime was on the rise as a result of overcriminalization. The Supreme Court was not too keen on the practice back then and even disapproved of it in numerous court opinions.
Plea bargains by themselves are not the bad guy in this story. Sometimes it is in the best interest of a defendant to accept a plea deal, especially if the state has a strong case against them. Typically, this deal includes a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence.
There are advantages and disadvantages to accepting a plea deal. The biggest advantage is obvious; a defendant will have their sentenced reduced in exchange for a guilty plea. A reduced sentence is great news, primarily if the original charge involved a lengthy prison term. However, accepting a plea deal may be in the best interest of the prosecutor. Some state prosecutors may offer a plea bargain because they lack key evidence to convict a defendant in trial. By accepting the deal, a defendant may be caving into a charge that could have been disproven.
Go to Trial or Accept a Plea Deal
Anyone who is faced with deciding whether they should accept a plea bargain or go to trial should consult with an attorney. Like mentioned earlier, there are pros and cons to taking the deal, so you do not want to risk making the wrong decision. An attorney can help you understand what will come with either choice and advise you on the best decision for your situation.
Before deciding on how to move forward with a case, a defendant should sit with their attorney and discuss the possible consequences of each option. A defendant should consider the chances of a better deal if they plead guilty or wait until closer to trial to accept the deal, the possible sentence if trial ends in conviction and the impact conviction will have on the defendant’s life.
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