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New Data Indicates That Only Two Percent of Federal Criminal Defendants Go to Trial, And Most Are Found Guilty


Recent data collected by the federal judiciary and analyzed by the Pew Research Center paints a bleak picture of a system that arguably denies justice to criminal defendants, especially when it comes to federal cases, in particular. According to the data, approximately 80,000 people were federal criminal defendants during the 2018 fiscal year, but only two percent of them ended up actually having trials, while 90 percent pled guilty. In addition, the data also indicates that most of the cases that went to trial resulted in guilty verdicts by a judge or jury. This essentially means that less than one percent of all federal defendants went to trial and received acquittals (i.e.
“won”). This includes those charged with serious misdemeanors, felonies, and petty offenses.

Separated out by charge, this means that the following charges end up going to trial:

  • less than one percent of federal defendants charged with immigration-related crimes;
  • less than two percent of those charged with drug crimes;
  • less than four percent of those charged with property-related crimes; and
  • less than seven percent of those charged with crimes that are considered to be “violent.”

A similar phenomenon applies to state courts in a number of states (including Florida), where jury trials account for less than 1.53 percent of criminal dispositions. In other words, there’s even less likelihood of a case going to trial in state court than in federal court.

Bench Trials, While Fairer, Are Less Accessible

However, according to the data, those who chose or who were otherwise able to obtain a bench trial were more likely to receive justice than those who received a jury trial, where four out of 10 defendants (or close to 40 percent) were acquitted; while only 14 percent were acquitted in jury trials. Still, in 2018, only 12 percent of defendants actually had a bench trial, with 88 percent facing a jury trial instead; indicating that this option is often unavailable.

Guilty Pleas Have Reached 90 Percent – The “Trial Penalty” Phenomenon

While trials have always been somewhat rare, it is concerning that they have become as rare as they currently are, and are decreasing with time. As they become rarer, guilty pleas increase, where criminal defendants entering guilty pleas increased from 82 percent in 1998 to 90 percent; just over the span of two decades. Some critics indicate that this is due to what’s known as the “trial penalty” phenomenon, where defendants are discouraged from exercising their right to a trial because they can face much more stringent sentences if they demand this right and lose.

Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorney To Find Out More

If you are being charged with a criminal offense, it is crucial that you work with the right criminal defense attorney in order to ensure that you too do not become the victim of an unfair criminal justice system. Contact our experienced West Palm Beach criminal attorney at the office of William Wallshein, P.A. today for a free consultation to find out more about our services.





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