The Trial Penalty

The trial penalty – the massive difference between the sentence criminal defendants typically receives after a plea bargain and the much higher sentence defendants typically receive if they are convicted at trial – is one of the most significant characteristics of the modern American legal system.

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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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"The Vanishing Trial", a documentary presented by FAMM and NACDL

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Featured Products


  • The Trial Penalty, Plea Bargains, and Saving the 6th Amendment Right to Trial [Engage & Exchange]

  • The Trial Penalty: Voices of Reform

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