I previously wrote about the ever-declining number of federal criminal trials due to the trial penalty: the additional months or even years added to a sentence after a conviction at trial, as compared to resolving the case by a plea agreement. This article focuses on another factor contributing to the trial penalty: punishment based upon acquitted conduct.
After more than two years of careful research and deliberation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) released The Trial Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right to Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How to Save It. The “trial penalty” refers to the substantial difference between the sentence offered prior to trial versus the sentence a defendant receives after a conviction at trial. This penalty is now so severe and pervasive that it has virtually eliminated the constitutional right to a trial. The report notes that to avoid the trial penalty, defendants must surrender fundamental rights which are essential to a fair justice system. The release of this report has garnered support from leading criminal justice reform entities, all of which agree that the incursion on the right to a trial poses a clear threat to justice.