We have blogged many times about the impact that tort reform is having the consumers 7th Amendment right to a trial. The legislation across many states has made it harder and more costly to get civil justice in a courtroom. Far too many consumers are prohibited from pursuing justice due to damage caps, mandatory arbitration clauses, and the like.
A recent article in the New York Times by Benjamin Weiser sheds light on the same dynamic occurring in the criminal justice system. The culprit is mandatory federal sentencing guidelines. The article reports that the national decline in both criminal and civil trials “has been noted in law journal articles, bar association studies and judicial opinions,” but “recently, in the two federal courthouses in Manhattan and a third in White Plains (known collectively as the Southern District of New York), the vanishing of criminal jury trials has never seemed so pronounced.” The Southern District “held only 50 criminal jury trials last year, the lowest since 2004, according to data provided by the court.” The records show that in 2005, “there were more than double the number of trials: 106,” and legal experts said that “decades ago,” the numbers “were much higher.” The Times adds that legal experts “attribute the decline primarily to the advent of the congressional sentencing guidelines and the increased use of mandatory minimum sentences, which transferred power to prosecutors, and discouraged defendants from going to trial, where, if convicted, they might face harsher sentences.”
The full article can be read here.
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