As Jury Trials Become Scarce, Justice Moves Behind Doors

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Jury trials in both civil and criminal courts in America are becoming scarce as prosecutors and attorneys increasingly choose to negotiate outcomes behind closed doors, reports the New York Times. The national decline in trials has been thoroughly documented. But recently, in the two federal courthouses in Manhattan and a third in White Plains (known collectively as the Southern District of New York), the vanishing of criminal jury trials has never seemed so pronounced. One judge, Jesse M. Furman, has had a single criminal jury trial in four years on the bench.

The Southern District held only 50 criminal jury trials last year, the lowest since 2004. The pace remains slow this year. In 2005, 106 trials were held in the district. The numbers were much higher decades ago. Legal experts attribute the decline primarily to the advent of the congressional sentencing guidelines and the increased use of mandatory minimum sentences, which transferred power to prosecutors, and discouraged defendants from going to trial, where they might face harsher sentences if convicted.

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