It’s a lamentable fact that very few white-collar cases in federal court go to trial. Most plead. Many of those that plead also involve someone providing evidence to the government against someone else; the people involved cooperate (or flip, or snitch, depending on who is talking about what happened).
White-collar cases, at least after an indictment, are often litigated with an eye toward the sentence that will come out at the end. And, with significant sentences in white-collar cases, that makes sense.
Most people plead rather than go to trial because a plea generally locks in some certainty about what will happen at sentencing. (True, in a world where the sentencing guidelines are discretionary, a judge may have a lot of power to decide a sentence that defeats a party’s expectations, but, generally, either by creative use of a statutory maximum — the government agreeing to make certain recommendations — or the simple fact that pleading guilty is a recognition that you aren’t going to spend a lot of the judge’s time sitting in trial, a plea can give a reason to think that the sentence at the end of the case will be lower. Though, of course, there’s always a Madoff exception.)
The flip side, of course, is that there’s a penalty for folks who decide that they would like to go to trial. Indeed, a recent report said that it’s a huge problem in drug cases.
And, on the trial penalty, there is some very interesting litigation in the federal courthouse in DC right now.