Monday, September 26, 2011

The trial tax

Despite this NY Times article about declining trials, this district still tries cases -- Judge Ungaro has closing arguments in a criminal antitrust case this morning; Judge Seitz is in the middle of a lengthy mortgage fraud case; Judge Cooke is starting a trial this morning. That said, the NY Times examines whether the "trial tax" is too high, forcing too many people to plead. The article focuses on state cases in Florida, but here's a snippet on the feds:

The shift has been clearer in federal district courts. After tougher sentencing laws were enacted in the 1980s, the percentage of criminal cases taken to trial fell to less than 3 percent last year, from almost 15 percent, according to data from the State University at Albany’s Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. The explosion of immigration prosecutions, where trials are rare, skews the numbers, but the trend is evident even when those cases are not included.

Nearly nine of every 10 cases ended in pleas last year, the federal data show, while one in 12 were dismissed (the percentage of dismissed cases was substantially higher a generation ago).

The number of acquittals dropped even further. Last year, there was only one acquittal for every 212 guilty pleas or trial convictions in federal district courts. Thirty years ago, the ratio was one for every 22.


Some federal prosecutors worried that their power would be weakened by a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that made sentencing guidelines advisory only. But academics say the ruling had much less effect than what some predicted as many judges still largely follow the guidelines, and the ruling did not affect other laws that have given prosecutors more power.

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