factual question about going to trial

There are some criminologists among the scatterplotters. Can you help? In my county, my analysis of court records showed that in a recent year only 31 of 2663 (1.2%) criminal cases involving at least one felony charge went to trial, and only 11 of 5306 misdemeanor cases (0.2%) went to trial. For the cases involving a felony charge, 80% involved a guilty plea on at least one charge (which may not have been the felony) while 19.3% had neither a guilty plea nor a trial, i.e. charges were dismissed one way or another; for the misdemeanor-only cases, 85% involved a guilty plea and 14.8% had neither a guilty plea nor trial. Are these numbers comparable to other places? Everybody in the system knows that most cases are pled out, but even the lawyers here think the percent going to trial is extremely low. There are suggestions that the overworked prosecutor’s office does everything it can to avoid trials. I know I could research this question in the literature, but I’m hoping that someone who lectures on this can tell me what the “usual” percentages are.

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/soc/racepoliticsjustice/ --Pam Oliver

4 thoughts on “factual question about going to trial”

  1. Here is a link to a BJS report on felony defendants in large, urban counties.


    Of convicted felons, 2% went to trial. Of those who were not convicted, 1% were acquitted in a trial. Of those who were not convicted, 23% had their cases dismissed. The misdemeanor result is so small that it is unlisted. You can download the spreadsheet to get raw numbers since the table doesn’t give exactly the comparison you want but I’d say your system may be a bit low but not overly so, given the national average displayed at BJS.


  2. BJS is great — has so much data on both crim and civil litigation (and the folks there are really nice if you ask them for data or about how they analyzed something when it is not clear to you)

    You also want to be sure what your base number is — in other words are you only looking at cases where charges are filed? In Cook Co. lots of arestees are arrested for felonies (and misdemeanors) but never charged. Like way, way, way more than is acceptable considering most of them are not able to make bail and sit in jail for a really long time, lose their jobs, and aren’t ever charged with anything. But I don’t want to spill the beans on a GREAT dissertation that I am supervising. Anyway, you want to think about arrests vs. charged cases in the denominator. it can have a big impact depending where you live.


  3. Thanks LB. This is just filed, I didn’t have access to the other database with referrals. I am aware of that step & include recommendations about studying it in the report I’m working on. Now that I think about it, an estimate of the “sit in jail never charged” problem was in the jail report.

    The immediate information is that our numbers are not so markedly below average as to be worth special mention in the report. The main point of this section of the report is the need to focus study on prosecutor decisions, as that is where the action is in sentencing.


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