Ma. Reverses Trend: More Federal Crimes Are Tried


The number of criminal trials in Massachsetts federal courts has nearly doubled since Michael Sullivan took over as U.S. attorney in 2001, even as the number of trials across the nation has plummeted, says the Boston Globe. Judges, lawyers, and prosecutors have lamented the “death of the jury trial” in federal courts, where 1 percent of criminal cases go to jury trial. In Massachusetts, Sullivan’s aversion to plea bargaining has reversed the trend. In 1999, under Sullivan’s predecessor Donald K. Stern, there were 22 criminal jury trials in Massachusetts federal courts, including 4.2 percent of all the criminal defendants whose cases were resolved that year. Last year, there were 47 criminal jury trials–7 percent of the criminal defendants whose cases were resolved.

The number of federal criminal trials nationwide has fallen from 5,000 to 3,500 per year, even as the number of criminal cases has more than doubled. Why, Sullivan asked, should criminals be rewarded with lesser sentences if they plead guilty? He ordered his aides to avoid “charge bargaining,” in which prosecutors drop some criminal charges in exchange for a guilty plea.

Chief U.S. District Judge William G. Young has made restoring the jury trial something a cause. “Jury trials are the most stunning experiment in direct democracy,” Young said. “The American jury system is dying. This is the most profound shift in our legal institutions in my lifetime and — most remarkable of all — it has taken place without engaging any broad public interest whatsoever,” Young wrote in an open letter to his colleagues last summer.


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