Criminal Justice

Criminal trials have become so scarce that federal judge had only one in his 4 years on the bench

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Gavel on top of a calendar

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of Manhattan has been on the federal bench for more than four years, but he has presided over just one criminal trial during that time.

Furman’s experience is not unusual amid a nationwide decline in both criminal and federal trials, the New York Times reports. But the vanishing criminal trial “has never seem so pronounced” in the Southern District of New York, made up of two courts in Manhattan and another in White Plains, the story says.

Criminal jury trials have declined with adoption of federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences that gave plea bargaining power to prosecutors, the article says.

The story offers these statistics:

• The Southern District held only 50 criminal jury trials last year, the lowest since 2004.

• The number of federal defendants convicted in jury trials was 3,200 in 1997, out of 63,000 defendants, and was 1,650 in 2015, out of 81,000 defendants.

• Felony trials are also down in New York state courts. There were 4,000 jury verdicts in felony trials in the state in 1984, and less than half that number last year.

Former U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin has said the drop in trials was one reason she decided to retire from the bench in April, according to the Times article. “Trials are way, way down,” she said. “The building’s quite dead.”

See also:

ABA Journal (2009): “The endangered trial lawyer”

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