Criminal defense lawyers who practice in federal court bemoan the lack of jury trials these days.
According to the administrative office of the U.S. courts, in the twelve months ended March 31, 2013, in our federal courts, 83,614 people entered a plea of guilty. Only 1,953 went to a jury trial (there were 173 bench trials too, for what it’s worth).
So, around 2 percent of the folks who are charged in federal court go to trial — the rest plead guilty.
The numbers in white-collar cases are a little better. For fraud cases there were 9,925 guilty pleas and 411 jury trials — so about 4 percent of people accused of fraud opt to see a jury. For regulatory offenses there were 1,480 pleas and 47 jury trials — about 3 percent.
There are a lot of reasons why so many people plead guilty and so few go to trial. One reason is that the acquittal rate is low — about 13 percent overall (there were 260 acquittals overall in FY 2013). For what it’s worth, while fraud acquittals were in line with that, regulatory offenses had an acquittal rate that was much higher — 20 acquittals (counting bench and jury trials) out of 55 trials. That’s about 35 percent.
Another big reason is that people accused of a crime are meaningfully prevented from testifying — and if a trial turns on what a person knew, as many white-collar cases do, their ability to put on a defense is compromised by their inability to testify. They can see a bad verdict coming….
On today’s date in 1905, the trial of the Stratton brothers began in the London Criminal Court. The case marks the first time in recorded Western jurisprudence that fingerprint evidence was used to obtain a murder conviction. This week, On Remand looks back at courts’ dealings with fingerprint evidence and the story of a lawyer whose fingerprints led to his erroneous arrest as a terrorist.
In March 1905, Thomas and Ann Farrow were murdered in their south London art shop. The crime scene suggested the motive — a cash box had been pried open and left empty — but offered investigators few clues about the perpetrator. With only a bloodstained sink and two discarded masks at the scene, and no murder weapon, signs of forced entry, or witnesses to the crime, investigators appeared to have no leads. But one other clue found at the scene — a bloody fingerprint on the cash box’s inner tray — would eventually break the case….
* Everything you wanted to know about the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul. [Latin Post]
* Well, we made fun of him in the past, but now Rob Greenstein has been sworn into office by none other than Hillary Clinton. Good for him. The ads were still stupid, though. [New York Personal Injury Blog]
* Really, Seattle? Blow dart attacks? [Seattle Times]
* Clay Aiken is thinking about running for Congress? Bad move, bro. Ruben Studdard has that district locked up. [Roll Call]
* It’s a very civil world where evidence spoliation earns you a nice compliment from the judge. [IT-Lex]
* Joe was on Legalese It! on HuffPo Live to discuss everything from gay marriage to threats made against the President. And you get to see Joe forget the name of Mail Goggles. Video embedded below… [HuffPo Live]
Other than when it’s on television or in a movie, the legal system is a place where rules are supposed to be followed so that justice might be done. Legal dramas where attorneys get creative with how to prosecute alleged criminals make for interesting entertainment, but nobody facing legal action wants to see much in the way of a deviation from the accepted practices. Yet, that seems to be what’s happened in cases involving anyone who has engaged in rap music.
Well, this is now coming to a head in the Supreme Court of New Jersey, which will hear a case to decide if prosecutors should be relying heavily on rap lyrics in their cases.
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* Former U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride will be joining Davis Polk as a partner in the firm’s white-collar defense practice. Nice work, DPW — he’s actually kind of cute. Earn back that rep! [DealBook / New York Times]
* Matthew Kluger, most recently of Wilson Sonsini, was disbarred in D.C. following his insider trading conviction. His criminal career apparently began while he was still in law school. Sheesh. [Blog of Legal Times]
* Kent Easter, he of the “I am but a spineless shell of a man” defense, was just on the receiving end of a mistrial. It seems the jury was totally deadlocked. Guess they felt bad for him. [Navelgazing / OC Weekly]
* The Iowa Law Student Bar Association supports the school’s decision to cut out-of-state tuition by about $8,000 because to stand against such a measure would be absolutely ridiculous. Congratulations on not being dumb. [Iowa City Press-Citizen]
* Apple won more than $290 million from Samsung in its patent infringement retrial. Siri, tell me what the fifth-largest jury award in the U.S. was in 2013. OMG, I didn’t say delete all my contacts. [Bloomberg]
* The trial for James Holmes, the shooter in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre, was delayed by a judge until further notice. A hearing has been scheduled to reassess the situation in December. [CNN]
* Myrna S. Raeder, renowned expert on evidence and criminal procedure, RIP. [ABA Journal]
Yesterday, Judge Laura Taylor Swain issued a curious evidentiary decision. In the fraud trial of several aides to Bernie Madoff, the judge ruled that prosecutors will have to Photoshop out a decoration from pictures of Madoff’s office. Lawyers for Daniel Bonventre argued that photos of the decoration, a four-foot statue of a screw, would be unduly prejudicial.
A Ponzi scheme operator flaunting a statue of a giant screw sounds a lot more probative than prejudicial, actually.
In any event, the art is not coming into evidence and is coming out of any pictures of the office. There may not have been a good reason to introduce the piece into evidence, but introducing Photoshop to the legal process creates a whole new wrinkle in the fabric of the “reality” put in front of juries….
* The night of the Benghazi attacks, President Obama was high on cocaine and having gay sex. Sure, this seems totally reasonable. [Examiner]
* An unfortunately accurate story of a chickens**t legal dispute. [Legal Juice]
* An interview with a biochemist going to Yale Law School. [Science to Law]
* Testimony elicited from superheroes may not be admissible. [Law and the Multiverse]
* A legal tech startup has locked up another $5.8 million from a VC to build a new research platform. [Blake Masters]
Justice Kagan announced the first opinion of the Court today. She is a funny woman:
“This case presents questions of sovereign immunity and prudential standing, not exactly what you came here today to hear.”
With 113 people being sworn into the bar of the Court, I suspect that most of the people in the audience did not, in fact, come to hear a decision in the health care case. The place is packed with admittees and their families — it’s so full members of the Supreme Court bar are squeezed back into the public section of the courtroom. With this many bar admissions, most of the bodies in the room are here to watch someone they know stand and recite an oath.
This is less true of the scrum of cameras outside the Court. While a few weeks ago there were four for five, now there’s a forest. Though perhaps they only appear to be more of a presence today in the light rain, as umbrellas protect the equipment and the spot where the talent will stand — illuminated by massive lights that are both soft and bright — if only the Court would hurry up and issue the health care opinion already.
Alas, no health care opinion was issued.
But, aside from the case about sovereign immunity and prudential standing, for a certain kind of lawyer, a very important opinion was issued today….
If this were any other school, if this were any other professor, I’d probably be screaming about this in my sleep. But I can’t get mad at Professor Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School. He’s old. He’s kooky. He’s got a personality and tenure. What’s not to like?
A tipster forwarded a copy of the 2011 Evidence exam Professor Nesson just issued. I think it’s great. Some people are going to go all nuts about how their school is “just as good as HLS if this is the kind of crap exam they give to students.” Some Harvard students, especially the ones who spent all semester reading and making their own case briefs, are going to scream about how they’re paying nearly $50K a year “for this.”
But whatever. You’ve got all these people running around, mainly deans at lower-ranked law schools, screaming about how legal education confers some kind of intangible, experiential benefit that cannot be codified in simple job placement statistics. Well, Professor Nesson is all about the existential experience of thinking deeply (or casually) about law — and he’s doing it at a school that confers the very tangible benefit of high-paying, prestigious jobs to all who want them.
So, strap yourselves in: two questions, 500-word limit per answer. Have fun, kids….