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The Long Odds in Criminal Cases

They are not for the faint of heart.

The fact is very few cases go to trial, and of those that do, most people go down swinging.

But according to the latest data, we are seeing even fewer trials than ever. The analysis comes from a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, and the underlying data comes from the horse’s mouth: the federal courts themselves.

Last year, just two percent of federal cases went to trial. Of the other 98%, ninety percent pleaded out, and eight percent were dismissed before trial. Just twenty years ago, by comparison, seven percent of cases went to trial, or 4,710 trials out of approximately 67,000 cases. Last year, it was 1,879 out of nearly 80,000.

Of the few defendants who went to trial last year, one out of six (or 17%) walked. The other five out of six (or 83%) bit the dust. To be precise, out of 79,704 defendants overall, only 320 went to trial and were acquitted. That’s less than half of one percent.

Of course, cases go to trial for different reasons.

But in every case, the accused begins as the long shot to win.

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