The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the U.S. criminal justice system, so why do only 2% of federal criminal cases ever go to trial?
The other 98% are resolved through plea bargains – and that’s not particularly good for defendants.
Plea deals have become increasingly common
These days, plea deals are heavily favored by prosecutors who are looking for “sure wins” and ways to save both time and trial expenses. That makes sense, given that the criminal dockets are already overcrowded.
Defendants are also supposed to get something out of a plea deal, however, whether that’s a reduced charge, fewer charges, a reduced sentencing recommendation or a combination of the three – but many defendants are choosing plea deals for all the wrong reasons. For example:
- They believe that they cannot possibly win at trial because they don’t have the money for a private defense and their public defender seems overloaded or incapable of rising to the occasion.
- They’re terrified of the “trial tax,” which is the so-called (and very real) increased punishment that they might receive if they’re convicted at trial. It’s estimated that a defendant who insists on a trial and is convicted can expect up to nine years added to their sentence.
- They’ve already spent so long in jail that a plea deal can get them out immediately. If a defendant didn’t get (or couldn’t afford) a bond that would keep them out of jail while their case was pending, they may jump at a plea that will sentence them to “time served,” even if they’re innocent.
- They may not fully understand the implications of a plea. When you take a plea deal, it is the same as a conviction on your record – and you also usually have to waive your rights to any appeals. A lot of defendants don’t quite understand the collateral damage to their lives from a plea deal will be just as severe as a conviction at trial.
If you’re facing criminal charges, don’t try to figure out what’s best to do on your own. Seeking experienced legal guidance can help you make informed decisions about how to proceed.