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NACDL to Expose the Trial Penalty in Bid to Resuscitate the Sixth Amendment (Inside NACDL)
By Norman L. Reimer
Inside NACDL columns.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a public trial.
— Sixth Amendment, U.S. Constitution
Every criminal defense lawyer knows that a core aspect of the Sixth Amendment — giving a defendant the right to a public trial — is now nearly extinct. Exercising the right to test the government’s evidence in a trial is now burdened with such extraordinary risk that even those who are wholly innocent rationally and wisely enter guilty pleas. The Supreme Court recently noted that “criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials. Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas.”1
Most defense lawyers routinely agonize with clients who genuinely doubt their own guilt and many others who unequivocally assert innocence as they grapple with the choice of a defined and limited penalty versus the near certainty of a geometrically enhanced term of imprisonme
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