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It's Time to Fix the Federal Criminal System
By John D. Cline
Blackstone famously declared that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”1 In today’s federal criminal system, that idea seems quaint. An acquittal is viewed as a sign the system does not work.2 Efficiency has become the highest value.
The federal criminal system in its current form affords the prosecution so many advantages that even an innocent defendant has little chance of acquittal. A defendant whose guilt is merely doubtful has almost no chance. Once in a great while the defense wins, but only because courageous judges and juries resist the systemic pressure to convict and imprison.
This article lists ways the system favors the prosecution, from investigation through appeal, and suggests a menu of reforms. The list is not exhaustive — just a few examples among dozens. Encountered in isolation, each imbalance may seem inconsequential. As a whole, they produce a system so heavily stacked for conviction that few defendants dare risk trial. Those
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