From [HERE] This week the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers released an extraordinary big new report titled, "The Trial Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right To Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How To Save It." Here is an overview of the 84-page report from the NACDL's website:
The ‘trial penalty’ refers to the substantial difference between the sentence offered in a plea offer prior to trial versus the sentence a defendant receives after trial. This penalty is now so severe and pervasive that it has virtually eliminated the constitutional right to a trial. To avoid the penalty, accused persons must surrender many other fundamental rights which are essential to a fair justice system
This report is the product of more than two years of careful research and deliberation. In it, NACDL examines sentencing and other data underlying the fact that, after a 50 year decline, fewer than 3% of federal criminal cases result in a trial. With more than 97% of criminal cases being resolved by plea in a constitutional system predicated upon the Sixth Amendment right to a trial, the fact of imbalance and injustice in the system is self-evident. The report identifies and exposes the underlying causes of the decline of the federal criminal trial and puts forth meaningful, achievable principles and recommendations to address this crisis. With its release, NACDL intends to launch a sustained effort to rein in the abuse of the trial penalty throughout federal and state criminal justice systems. The Trial Penalty report, and the principles and recommendations it puts forward, seeks to save the right to a trial from extinction.
Former US District Judge John Gleeson authored a thoughtful Foreword to the report, and here are excerpts that also provide a partial account of what follows:
This report is a major contribution to the discussion of one of the most important issues in criminal justice today: the vanishing trial. Once the centerpiece of our criminal justice ecosystem, the trial is now spotted so infrequently that if we don’t do something to bring it back, we will need to rethink many other features of our system that contribute to fair and just results only when trials occur in meaningful numbers.
The first task in solving a problem is identifying its causes, and this report nails that step. Mandatory minimum sentencing provisions have played an important role in reducing our trial rate from more than 20% thirty years ago to 3% today. Instead of using those blunt instruments for their intended purpose — to impose harsher punishments on a select group of the most culpable defendants — the Department of Justice got in the habit long ago of using them broadly to strong-arm guilty pleas, and to punish those who have the temerity to exercise their right to trial. The Sentencing Guidelines also play an important role, providing excessively harsh sentencing ranges that frame plea discussions when mandatory sentences do not. Finally, the report correctly finds that federal sentencing judges are complicit as well. In too many cases, excessive trial penalties are the result of judges having internalized a cultural norm that when defendants “roll the dice” by “demanding” a trial, they either win big or lose big. The same judges who will go along with a plea bargain that compromises a severe Guidelines range are too reticent to stray very far from the sentencing range after trial.
The report’s principles and recommendations will stimulate some much-needed discussion. Today’s excessive trial penalties, it concludes, undermine the integrity of our criminal justice system. Putting the government to its proof is a constitutional right, enshrined in the Sixth Amendment; no one should be required to gamble with years and often decades of their liberty to exercise it. The report properly raises the “innocence problem,” that is, the fact that prosecutors have become so empowered to enlarge the delta between the sentencing outcome if the defendant pleads guilty and the outcome if he goes to trial and loses that even innocent defendants now plead guilty. But there’s an even larger hypocrisy problem. Our Constitution claims to protect the guilty as well, affording them a presumption of innocence and protecting them from punishment unless the government can prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A system characterized by extravagant trial penalties produces guilty pleas in cases where the government cannot satisfy that burden, hollowing out those protections and producing effects no less pernicious than innocents pleading guilty. [MORE]