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Acquittals

Ronald F. Wright

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Trial Distortion And The End Of Innocence In Federal Criminal Law, Ronald F. Wright Mar 2005

Trial Distortion And The End Of Innocence In Federal Criminal Law, Ronald F. Wright

Ronald F. Wright

This article starts with a troubling and unnoticed development in federal criminal justice: acquittals have virtually disappeared from the system in the last 15 years, and for all the wrong reasons. It seems likely that prosecutors have increased the "trial penalty" so much that defendants with meaningful defenses feel compelled to plead guilty, undermining the truth-finding function of the criminal process.

The article examines these federal developments in light of a proposed "trial distortion theory." The theory I develop here evaluates the quality of plea negotiation practices in a jurisdiction by asking whether the system produces outcomes (convictions, acquittals and …