The power of III

Summum ius summa iniuria--More law, less justice

16 March 2012

No more plea bargains: Demand your right to trial by jury, and crash the [unconstitutional] system

Via Fight the Power blog, from the New York Times:

AFTER years as a civil rights lawyer, I rarely find myself speechless. But some questions a woman I know posed during a phone conversation one recent evening gave me pause: “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?” ...“The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,” said Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute. 

In other words: the system is rigged. In the race to incarcerate, politicians champion stiff sentences for nearly all crimes, including harsh mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws; the result is a dramatic power shift, from judges to prosecutors. The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that threatening someone with life imprisonment for a minor crime in an effort to induce him to forfeit a jury trial did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to trial. Thirteen years later, in Harmelin v. Michigan, the court ruled that life imprisonment for a first-time drug offense did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment

 ...I launched, predictably, into a lecture about what prosecutors would do to people if they actually tried to stand up for their rights. The Bill of Rights guarantees the accused basic safeguards, including the right to be informed of charges against them, to an impartial, fair and speedy jury trial, to cross-examine witnesses and to the assistance of counsel. But in this era of mass incarceration — when our nation’s prison population has quintupled in a few decades partly as a result of the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement — these rights are, for the overwhelming majority of people hauled into courtrooms across America, theoretical. 

More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury. Most people charged with crimes forfeit their constitutional rights and plead guilty.


  1. I've been selected for a jury panel four times, and only actually gone to trial once the defendant was aquitted). I would never take a "deal". But then again I'd never let them take me to jail in the first place, so that point is moot...

  2. Duh now why do you think these upstanding citizens make a deal? Do you realize what it takes to actually go to trial? A close and shut case so the government can boast how many criminals have been sent to jail by their fellow citizens. I have sat on four juries and I am amazed how lenient juries are because there are so many dunderheads who can't tell the difference between right and wrong.