One of the most cited and celebrated rights in the United States of America is the right to a trial decided upon by a jury of one’s peers. When a person is facing criminal charges, they can elect to have a trial by jury, and their lawyer will defend them in court. While this is supposed to be a guaranteed right, oftentimes, many cases are resolved through plea bargaining with the prosecutor. Plea bargaining is basically a negotiation between defendant and prosecutor to work out a deal where the defendant accepts certain charges and their consequences, while the prosecutor offers to drop others. While plea bargaining can sometimes be the best case scenario, the New York Times has pointed out recently that overall, trials by jury are on the decline, and instead, most cases nowadays are being resolved through striking deals with the prosecutor, “behind closed doors,” as the article ominously suggests. The Times reported that in 1984 there were over 4,000 verdicts served by juries, and in 2015, that numbers has dwindled to fewer than half.
A Decline In Jury Trials
If the disproportionate divide between jury trials and plea deals is so large, what could have caused it? Where do these disparities come from? Supposedly fewer Americans are willing to serve on juries, and some New York judges are getting just a handful of criminal law trials in a year. In an article by Slate, it is also suggested that another issue that contributes to this decline in jury trials is heavy-handed prosecution. With so many statutes with just vague enough language, prosecutors can quite literally throw the book at defendants when it comes to determining charges. This means that the defendant, faced with an overwhelming number of charges, will be forced to choose between taking a plea deal that seems favorable compared to generate enough reasonable doubt in court for a multitude of charges. Trials are also presented to defendants as though they are gambles and last resorts, but only because trials are actually slowly starting to become those things themselves.