The right to a trial by jury is enshrined into the constitution, yet increasingly over the last few decades, trials have become a vanishing feature of the criminal justice system.
University of North Carolina law professor Carissa Hessick recently wrote the book, Punishment Without Trial: Why Plea Bargaining Is a Bad Deal.
While there are positive aspects of the plea bargain—efficiency in the system and reduced punishment—overall 97 to 98 percent of all cases end not with a jury verdict but with an agreement between prosecutor and defense, an agreement that is often negotiated under unfavorable and unequal terms.
As Hessick points out, “Instead of protecting defendants’ right to have their guilt or innocence decided by their peers, judges routinely punish defendants for exercising that right.”
Specifically, “judges regularly impose longer sentences on those defendants who insist on going to trial than on those defendants who plead guilty.”
A 2018 report shows that “on average, defendants who insist on a trial receive sentences three times longer than those of defendants who plead guilty.”
This practice is so common that it even has a name: the “trial penalty.”
Listen as Everyday Injustice talks with Professor Hessick about why this arrangement is detrimental to the system, including the incentive for innocent people to plead guilty to crimes that they did not commit rather than risk the longer trial penalty.