The Wall Street Journal published an extensive report Sunday night on the growing number of federal defendants who have taken plea bargains in recent years, many of which do so while maintaining innocence. This trend has contributed to the overcrowding of prisons with individuals who have decided to plead guilty to crimes they claim to not have committed in exchange for lighter sentences. rather than rolling the dice with a jury trial that could result in decades in prison.
These days, not many people exercise their right to a jury trial; even fewer hear a "not guilty" verdict read by their peers. The triumph of plea bargaining in the federal system, which has gathered pace in recent years, is nearly complete. Guilty pleas last year resolved 97% of all federal cases that the Justice Department prosecuted to a conclusion. That is up from 84% in 1990. During that period, the number of federal defendants nearly doubled amid a crackdown on crimes ranging from drug trafficking to fraud, while the number going to trial fell by nearly two-thirds.
This relentless growth in plea bargaining has sparked a backlash among lawyers, legal scholars and judges—evidenced by recent federal court decisions, including two from the Supreme Court. Weighing on many critics is the possibility illustrated by the Kassab case: that the innocent could feel pressured into pleading guilty.
As the system disproportionately favors guilty pleas putting pressure on the ‘not guilty’ to take the plea, despite the obvious consequence of losing freedom, this trend also pushes to the side many constitutionally protected rights that only a trial by jury would offer a defended.
On "Real News From the Blaze" the panel discussed this troubling development and how many innocent people may be becoming collateral damage because of this trend in the justice system: