There it is, prominently stated in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”
Notwithstanding that express prerogative, though, it is eminently clear that legions of criminal defendants in Missouri and across the country opt to forgo a trial in lieu of accepting a prosecutor’s plea agreement.
The empirical evidence speaks for itself. Reportedly, only about one of every five accused suspects nationally elected to go to trial instead of pleading guilty even as far back as three decades ago. And now that yes-to-trial crowd has dwindled to an estimated 3 percent.
That is ironic and strange, right? Suspects have a stated right to trial stipulated in the nation’s paramount legal document, yet only a paltry few among the many choose to exercise it. What is going on?
A recent in-depth analysis by a legal commentator writing for the publication Above the Law has some views on the matter. Among other things, it notes the following.
First, many actors within the American justice system actively push for plea agreements to purposely avoid trial. Going to court is an expensive, timely and cumbersome process. Trials clog dockets and spread judges thin. Such factors go far toward explaining why outside-of-court pleas are often encouraged.
And then there is the so-called “trial penalty,” an unarguable reality marked by this result noted in the above article: “People who go to trial and are convicted get much heavier sentences than those who plea-bargain.” That outcome understandably induces fear in criminal defendants, many who conclude that it is better for them to plead guilty to a charge and accept a negotiated plea rather than try their luck at trial.
Many people running through such an analysis are actually innocent. We will more closely examine their thought process and delve into related considerations in our next blog post.