District Judge Rejects Pleas in Favor of Juries

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Photo by Patrick Feller, via Flickr

In an opinion published Thursday, a federal judge explains why he is rejecting plea deals that transfer criminal adjudications from the public arena to the prosecutor’s office just “for the purpose of expediency.” Sentencing Law and Policy blogger Douglas Berman flagged the decision as “remarkable” and a must-read, suggesting it may signal more jury trials in the future.

Explaining his ruling, Joseph Goodwin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia wrote that, “Plea bargains like this one perpetuate the ongoing metamorphosis of the criminal justice system into nothing more than an administrative system controlled entirely by bureaucrats, where judge and jury are merely stage props to convince the general public that the criminal justice system they see nightly on television is being busily played out in the big courtroom downtown.”

He added: “The United States criminal justice system is about far more than just punishment, and it was never intended to place all the power of accuser, judge, and jury into the hands of the government.”

Reflecting on the “near-total substitution of plea bargaining for the system of justice created by our nation’s Founders,” Goodwin said that, “the scales of justice tip in favor of rejecting plea bargains unless I am presented with a counterbalance of case-specific factors sufficiently compelling to overcome the people’s interest in participating in the criminal justice system.”

“The Founders clearly intended and articulated a preeminent role for the people’s direct participation in that criminal justice system,” he writes.

The number of federal criminal jury trials in the nation fell 8 percent to 1,742 (down 147 trials) in the year ending last Sept. 30, the federal court system says.

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