Efficiency and Justice: Can they Co-exist? Part 2

EKU Online > Efficiency and Justice: Can they Co-exist? Part 2

By: Dr. Betsy Matthews

Part 2: Are Jury Trials Becoming Obsolete?

A recent headline in a daily newsletter from The Crime Report (www.thecrimereport.org), a non-partisan multimedia and networking resource on crime and justice issues, caught my attention. The headline read “How Plea Bargains are Making Jury Trials Obsolete.”  In the article, Matthew Mangino reported that “ninety-seven percent of federal criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain,” and asserted that “the cleansing effect of trial has all but disappeared.”

Pre-trial processes (i.e., arrest and grand jury) only require that probable cause be established.  But the jury trial raises the standard to “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” and demands that the ambiguity associated with earlier processes be resolved.  Our right to jury trial, as granted in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and  all of the rights implied  therein (i.e., the right to an impartial jury, the right to confront witnesses against him, the right to obtain witnesses in his favor) are waived when we enter a guilty plea.  So, Mangino states, “for 97 out of 100 people accused of a crime in federal court….proof beyond a reasonable doubt never enters the equation.” 

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate the goals and character of our adversarial legal system.  If the goals of the system are crime control or bureaucratic efficiency, then plea bargaining makes sense.  If the goals of the system are the truth and the protection of due process, then plea bargaining is much harder to justify, and we should address the problems in the system that are making jury trials obsolete.

This is a two-part series by Dr. Betsy Matthews Eastern Kentucky University Associate Professor and EKU Online Coordinator Dr. Betsy Matthews. Read Part 1: Does Plea Bargaining Deliver Justice?

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