At the federal level, trial sentences are roughly three times higher than plea sentences for the same crime on average and sometimes as much as eight or ten times higher. This sentencing differential is extremely coercive. As a result only 2-3% of federal convictions are the result of trial. The rest are plea bargains. The trial penalty is so coercive that it causes some innocent people to plead guilty.
NACDL Reports & Resources
- The New York State Trial Penalty: The Constitutional Right to Trial Under Attack (March 2021)
- The Trial Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right to Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How to Save It (July 2018)
- Pleas resources in the NACDL Resource Center
Other Reports & Scholarship
- American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section Plea Bargaining Task Force report (February 2023)
- The Disappearing Trial, Fair Trials International (April 2017, updated January 2022)
- The Tyranny of the Trial Penalty: The Consensus that Coercive Plea Practices Must End: April-June double issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, edited by then-Executive Director Norman L. Reimer and then-First Vice President Martín Antonio Sabelli (Volume 31, Issue 4-5, summer 2019)
- An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty, Human Rights Watch (December 2013)
End The Trial Penalty Coalition
End the Trial Penalty is an ideologically diverse alliance of individuals and organizations who each believe the Trial Penalty prevents us from achieving a truly just society. The End the Trial Penalty Coalition will eliminate coercive elements of plea bargaining to restore our fundamental constitutional rights including the right to jury trial.
Plea Bargaining Institute
The Plea Bargaining Institute (PBI) is a groundbreaking project that will provide a global intellectual home for academics, policymakers, advocacy organizations, and practitioners working in the plea bargaining space to share knowledge and collaborate.
Trial Penalty Survey
NACDL is seeking to learn about more individual encounters with the trial penalty in the American criminal legal system, whether on the federal or state level. If you are interested in sharing a trial penalty story, please take our short survey.
"The Vanishing Trial", a documentary presented by FAMM and NACDL
Cross-Examination Trial Pack
NACDL’s new Cross-Examination Trial Pack includes three of our best-selling Cross-Examination resources: “Damage Control: Situational Cross-Examination Techniques Trial Guide”, "Ultimate Cross 2.0: Audio Recordings & Written Materials" and "Sample Cross-Examination Questions."
This masterful collection of cross-examination resources provide countless tips, techniques and strategies for a variety of criminal case-specific scenarios. Learn to cross-examine a variety of trial witnesses!
NACDL 2024 Annual Pass - All CLE Institute Programs
NACDL's 2024 Annual Pass gives you full access to the recordings of every CLE Institue live training seminar held in 2024! That means every CLE speech, presentation and training - along with all accompanying written materials - is yours for over 50% off! With this exclusive pass, you gain unlimited access to a treasure-trove of recent NACDL Trial Skills training that will help you win more cases!
A Defender's Guide to Federal Evidence - 2nd Edition
This brand-new 2nd Edition 2024 Guide to Federal Evidence is the only federal evidence handbook written exclusively for criminal defense lawyers. The updated 2024 Guide analyzes each Federal Rule of Evidence and outlines the main evidentiary issues that confront criminal defense lawyers. It also summarizes countless defense favorable cases and provides tips on how to avoid common evidentiary pitfalls. The 2nd Edition Guide contains multiple new and updated user-friendly flowcharts aimed at helping the criminal defense lawyer tackle evidence problems.
Sexual Assault Trial Skills Training Collection - 40+ Hours of Content!
NACDL's "Sexual Assault Trial Skills Training Collection" is the definitive aggregation of our 4 highest-rated and most current Sex Cases CLE trainings (2019, 2021, 2022 & 2023 ed.) and contains our most comprehensive and up-to-date assembly of sex cases trainings that NACDL has ever put together! Containing 49 separate trial skills trainings, thousands of pages of written materials and over 40+ hours of practical and pragmatic content, this collection guides you through the most intimidating sexual assault criminal trial topics.
The Trial Penalty, Plea Bargains, and Saving the 6th Amendment Right to Trial [Engage & Exchange]
Dan Canon, civil right lawyer, teacher, activist and author discusses his book Pleading Out, How Plea Bargaining Creates a Permanent Criminal Class in a session hosted by NACDL President Martín Sabelli.
The ‘trial penalty’ is the substantial difference between the sentence offered in a plea offer prior to trial versus the sentence a defendant receives after trial. This penalty has become so severe and entrenched that virtually eliminates the constitutional right to a trial. Our speakers discuss how “pleading out” contributes to an unjust system, creates a class of people restricted from participating in society, and how to combat it to save the right to a trial. Read NACDL's Trial Penalty report to learn more.
The Trial Penalty: Voices of Reform
NACDL News Releases
News Release ~ 05/03/2023
Broad Coalition Launches to Restore the Constitutional Right to Trial – Twenty-four national organizations, impacted people, community leaders, organizers, and legal reform leaders created the End the Trial Penalty Coalition to end the coercive elements of plea bargaining to restore fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to a jury trial.
News Release ~ 02/22/2023
New Plea Bargain Task Force Report Highlights the Trial Penalty, Calls for Transparency – Washington, DC (Feb. 22, 2023) – NACDL applauds the release of a new report from the Plea Bargaining Task Force, a group convened by the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association.* The task force closely examines the role of plea bargaining in our criminal legal system and provides policy recommendations and goals for changes in the way plea bargaining operates.
News Release ~ 12/23/2021
NACDL Calls on Members to Protect People Accused of Crimes and their Communities from COVID, and Join Fight to Oppose the Trial Penalty – Washington, DC (Dec. 23, 2021) – Two days ago, the Commissioner of New York’s Department of Corrections issued an unprecedented statement regarding the COVID crisis for individuals housed in Rikers Island.
News of Interest
- "Doing Time Without Committing a Crime,"
- "How Can We Better Understand Federal Sentencing Through Plea Agreements?,"
- "Most New Yorkers can’t contest wrongful convictions without DNA evidence. Exoneree Steve Lopez wants to change that,"