Jury trials remain a favorite of American film and literature but not of the criminal-justice system, where their use is in steep decline across the U.S., the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. In the year that ended June 30, 2008, little more than 1 percent of felony convictions in Virginia courts were at the hands of jurors. University of Virginia law Prof. Josh Bowers said, “We’re already at what would seem to be almost a bare minimum of jury trials for a criminal-justice system that recognizes a jury trial right.”
Nationally, of the more than 1 million felony convictions in 2004, 95 percent were resolved by guilty pleas, with the remaining 5 percent in judge or jury trials, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Experts believe tough sentencing laws passed by Congress and the states in the 1980s and 1990s in response to rising crime — and predictions of rising crime — are a factor contributing to the national decline in jury trials.