How Often Do Criminal Cases Go to Trial?

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Hartford Criminal Defense AttorneyThe ability to have a trial by jury is one of the fundamental rights provided to criminal defendants in the United States. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that anyone who is charged with a crime has a right to a speedy trial before an impartial jury, as well as the right to be represented by an attorney and to confront witnesses that testify against them. While most people understand these rights and believe that they will be able to defend themselves in court, they may not realize how rarely jury trials actually happen.

Over the past few decades, the number of criminal trials that take place in both state and federal courts has decreased significantly. Currently, only around 2 percent of federal criminal cases go to trial, and state-level cases follow similar trends. Instead, most cases are resolved through plea bargains in which defendants agree to plead guilty to certain charges in exchange for having other charges dropped or receiving reduced sentences. Around 94 percent of state-level felony convictions and 97 percent of federal felony convictions are the result of plea bargains.

Reasons for the Decrease in Criminal Jury Trials

The potential for harsh sentences is one of the primary reasons why defendants are more likely to accept plea bargains in criminal cases. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws that were put in place at both the state and federal levels in the 1980s and 1990s have increased the likelihood that defendants will face lengthy prison sentences if they are found guilty at trial. To avoid these consequences, many defendants choose to plead guilty and accept shorter sentences.

This issue has been exacerbated due to an overtaxed justice system and increased power in the hands of prosecutors. Defendants who cannot afford attorneys will often rely on public defenders who may represent large numbers of clients, and these attorneys will often attempt to resolve cases quickly by encouraging clients to accept plea bargains. Prosecutors may also influence cases by pursuing multiple charges against defendants that would add up to lengthy sentences if a person is convicted at trial and then agreeing to drop most of the charges if a person accepts a plea bargain. Because trials can be lengthy, and courts have limited capacity, judges will often encourage prosecutors and defense attorneys to reach agreements without the need to take a case to trial.

While these factors affect all defendants who are facing criminal charges, they have been especially problematic for defendants who are minorities. Black people are more likely to be charged with crimes, and they are more likely to receive longer sentences. Studies have found that prosecutors are more than twice as likely to charge Black defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences, and on average, Black defendants receive sentences that are 19 percent longer than white defendants from similar backgrounds who are charged with the same types of offenses. Because the vast majority of cases are resolved through plea bargains, most defendants do not have the opportunity to defend themselves in a jury trial, and they often have no other option but to accept harsh and unjust sentences.

Contact Our Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer

While the criminal justice system in the United States is based on the idea that everyone deserves to be treated fairly, the actual way the system works is often anything but fair. At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we believe in protecting the rights of defendants in criminal cases, and we work to ensure that our clients can resolve their cases successfully. We can take a case to trial when necessary, and we can also negotiate plea bargains that will allow defendants to avoid lengthy prison sentences or other consequences. If you are facing criminal charges, contact our Hartford criminal defense attorney right away to get the legal help and representation you need. Call our office at 860-290-8690 to arrange your free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/2022/09/22/the-disappearing-jury-trial-and-its-affect-on-the-american-legal-system/

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/11/04/the-truth-about-trials

https://www.injusticewatch.org/news/2021/disappearing-jury-trials-study/

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