Jury trials: a thing of the past?

You’re accused of a crime. You didn’t do it.

The prosecutor is aggressive; she says there’s ample evidence to convict you. You and your attorney go over the evidence. He says there are procedural errors in the way the evidence has been acquired, and all in all, he doesn’t believe the case is all that strong.

But none of that is very reassuring.

Then the prosecutor comes back with an offer. Accept a plea to a lesser crime, and she and your lawyer will negotiate a sentence — maybe one that has no jail time.

But you didn’t do the lesser crime either.

What do you do?

More and more, according to a National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) report titled the “The Trial Penalty.”, defendants are taking the deal. And that’s not a good thing.

They’re waiving their right to a jury trial; they’re passing up a chance to challenge their accusers; and they accept the permanent label of “convicted criminal” for themselves.

Jury trials today occurred in only about three percent of the three percent of federal criminal cases; 30 years ago, it was 20 percent. The same thing has been happening at the state level.

The NACDL report goes on to say:

Neither government officials or the public have resisted the rise of plea bargaining, say the defense lawyers, who agree that “plea bargaining presents a seemingly reasonable alternative that promotes efficiency while providing defendants an opportunity for leniency and putting them on an early road to rehabilitation.” A major problem is that pressures to plead guilty are “so strong [that] even innocent people can be convinced to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit,” says the NACDL report.

This information comes from TheCrimeReport.org, an excellent source for keeping up with the criminal justice system:  Defense Lawyers Decry Disappearance of Jury Trials | The Crime ReportThe Crime Report

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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