Do Criminal Defendants Still Have the Right to a Trial?

 Posted on February 05,2024 in Criminal Defense

Blog ImageIn the United States, people who are charged with criminal offenses have certain rights. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that defendants have the right to a speedy, public trial before an impartial jury. However, this right has been threatened by the way the criminal justice system currently works. The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains rather than trials, and this has led to unjust outcomes for many defendants. For those who are facing criminal charges and want to make sure their rights will be protected, an experienced criminal defense attorney can provide the legal representation they need.

The Trial Penalty

Since the 1980s, law enforcement officials throughout the United States have implemented “tough on crime” policies as part of the “war on drugs” and other efforts meant to address criminal activity and threats to public safety. This has led the court system to become overwhelmed by a large number of criminal cases. Since it would be impossible to hold a criminal trial for every defendant, prosecutors have taken steps to resolve cases without the need to go to trial whenever possible.

To limit the number of trials, prosecutors will often pursue multiple charges against a single defendant and seek harsh sentences if a person is convicted at trial. They will then offer plea bargains that will allow for much shorter sentences if a person pleads guilty to lesser charges. This is known as the “trial penalty,” since defendants who choose to take their cases to trial and are convicted are likely to receive sentences that are around three times higher, on average, than if they had accepted a plea bargain. As a result of these policies, only around 3 percent of all criminal cases go to trial.

Criminal justice advocates have argued that the trial penalty effectively coerces defendants into pleading guilty, even if they are innocent of the charges against them. When faced with multiple types of charges and the possibility of lengthy prison sentences if convicted at trial, a defendant may feel that they have no choice but to plead guilty and accept a shorter sentence. 

When defendants accept plea bargains, they may be unaware of the consequences. Even if a charge is reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, a conviction will still result in a criminal record that may affect a person’s employment opportunities and other aspects of their life. A person who pleads guilty will also waive their right to appeal their conviction, and they will typically be unable to challenge police misconduct or unconstitutional searches and seizures. 

The trial penalty has resulted in many wrongful convictions. The National Registry of Exonerations, which collects data about defendants who have been convicted and later proven innocent, has found that out of over 3,400 exonerations that have occurred since 1989, 26 percent of these defendants pled guilty to crimes that they did not commit. Even when people are exonerated, they may have lost years of their lives serving unjust sentences and dealing with the collateral consequences of having a criminal record.

Contact Our Hartford Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with a crime, you may feel that you are being pressured to plead guilty, and you may be unsure about whether taking your case to trial would be a good idea. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, our Connecticut criminal defense attorney can review your case and advise you of your best options. We will work with you to determine the best defense strategy while ensuring that your rights will be protected throughout every step of your case. To set up a free consultation and learn how we can provide you with the defense you need, contact us at 860-290-8690.

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