Only 2% of the approximately 80,000 defendants in federal criminal cases in 2018 proceeded to trial. As many as 90% of the defendants entered a guilty plea, while the remaining 8% saw their cases get dismissed. Pew Research Center arrived at these findings following an analysis of federal judiciary data.
Most defendants who went to trial ended up with a guilty verdict. Another analysis done by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts found that less than 1% (or 320) of the 79,704 federal defendants proceeded to trial and secured at least an acquittal. These figures consist of defendants who had a felony, a serious misdemeanor, and petty offense charges in U.S. district courts. They exclude a greater group of defendants in state courts, federal defendants whose criminal cases were determined by magistrate judges, and defendants who pleaded no contest.
Variations of Trial Rates Based on Offense Types
Trial rates are low no matter the types of charges federal defendants face. The rates, however, vary depending on the offense type. Less than 1% (or 89 of 25,575) of federal defendants with immigration offense charges proceeded to trial in 2018. The same applies to 2% (or 499 of 21,777) defendants with drug offense charges and 4% (or 419 of 10,045) of those with property offense charges. Defendants with violent offense charges had a higher trial rate at 7% (or 192 of 2,879).
Decline in Trials and Increase in Guilty Pleas
The federal criminal justice system has recorded a significant drop in the number of trials over the last two decades. In fact, the percentage of defendants whose cases reached trial dropped from 7% in 1998 to 2% in 2018. Simply put, the number of defendants who proceeded to trial fell from 4, 710 to 1,879 between 1998 and 2018.
With trials becoming less common, guilty pleas have increased significantly. The percentage of federal criminal defendants who pleaded guilty increased from 82% (or 55,913) in 1998 to 90% (or 71,550) in 2018.
Getting Aggressive Legal Representation
A felony defendant can stand a better chance at obtaining a positive outcome in his or her case by getting a criminal attorney for felonies on board. The attorney will leverage the knowledge of the criminal justice system, investigation abilities, and due diligence to get the defendant’s charge dismissed or reduced. This may involve interviewing witnesses, evaluating police reports and medical records, and negotiating with the prosecutor.