News Release

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.

Washington, DC (May 3, 2023) – Twenty-four criminal justice organizations, impacted people, think tanks, academics, activists, and reform leaders from across the ideological spectrum have united to end the trial penalty – the substantial and coercive difference between the sentence in a plea offer prior to trial versus the much greater sentence a defendant often receives after trial. Those who choose to go to trial and are convicted often face sentences that are, on average, three times the plea offer and sometimes measured in decades.

The coercive and punitive effects of the trial penalty are so pervasive that they have virtually eliminated our constitutional right to trial. In fact, over 97% of cases ending in a conviction never go to trial, leading to a range of issues reverberating through our legal system, including the waiver of numerous constitutional freedoms and rights, overcriminalization, loss of public oversight, and racial injustice. The Coalition aims to restore the right to trial, helping right these wrongs to ensure a fair, rational, and humane criminal legal system.

Members of this new Coalition will work together to raise awareness of the adverse effects of a justice system without trials, advocate policy reform, and forge relationships with key policymakers. The Coalition will also serve as a resource for people interested in participating in an impactful criminal legal reform movement. The Coalition has published a comprehensive Policy Overview which includes policy ideas to combat coercive practices in the plea bargaining process, to improve data collection and transparency, and to foster post-trial reform and accountability measures.

Vist the End the Trial Penalty Website

"Over the last half century, we have surrendered the Framers’ vision of a system of public jury trials to an assembly line of pleas coerced by threats of severe sentences – an assembly line that has generated mass incarceration, wrongful convictions, racial injustice, and law enforcement misconduct beyond the scrutiny of judges and juries," said MartĂ­n Sabelli, NACDL Immediate Past President and Co-Founder of the Coalition. "This Coalition – which spans the ideological, political, and professional spectrum – will breathe life into the criminal legal system by identifying and dismantling the laws, policies, and practices that have undermined the vision of the Framers. Forty years of coercive plea bargaining is enough. It is time to restore the balance that protects liberty and freedom."

"When I was arrested and charged for a crime I didn't commit, I was told that if I went to trial I would probably lose and be sentenced to life in prison. Feeling powerless, I accepted a plea so that I would have the chance to see my loved ones again. Little did I know that I would end up spending 18 years in custody, both in prison and civil confinement, before DNA would prove my innocence," said Rodney Roberts, Exoneree and Re-entry Coach at Innocence Project. "The pressure put on people to accept pleas is so overwhelming. Many people claim they would never, ever plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit. I thought the same thing until my life was hanging in the balance."

As Clark Neily, Senior Vice President for Legal Studies at the Cato Institute explained, "It’s no accident that more than half the Bill of Rights is devoted to the subject of criminal jury trials. The Founders’ decision to put citizen participation at the very heart of the administration of criminal justice is unmistakable, and our decision to replace that process with one of plea-driven mass adjudication has led to countless false convictions, swept untold amounts of police and prosecutorial misconduct under the rug, and thoroughly undermined the moral and political legitimacy of America’s criminal justice system."

"The trial penalty not only undermines the principles of justice and due process, but it also perpetuates systemic racism in the criminal legal system, with Black Americans disproportionately bearing the brunt of its harsh consequences," said Robert Rose III, Coalition Member. "We must recognize and confront the dangers of this unjust practice and work towards creating a more equitable and fair system for all."

The Coalition plans to further partner with impacted people and their families, community leaders, criminal legal system stakeholders, and local organizers to ensure everyone has a seat at the table in the efforts to restore justice to our legal system. End the Trial Penalty’s Executive Committee continues to welcome interested individuals and organizations and anticipates that membership will grow following its launch.

About End the Trial Penalty

End the Trial Penalty is an ideologically diverse coalition of criminal justice organizations and leaders committed to ending the trial penalty to ensure a fair, rational, and humane criminal legal system. The coalition aims to eliminate the coercive elements of plea bargaining to restore our fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to a jury trial.

Vist the End the Trial Penalty Website

End the Trial Penalty Members:

  • ACLU
  • The Bail Project
  • Brennan Center for Justice
  • Center for Justice Innovation
  • Center on Wrongful Conviction
  • Lucian Dervan, Professor of Law and Director of Criminal Justice Studies, Belmont University College of Law and Founding Director of the Plea Bargaining Institute
  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • FAMM
  • Fair Trials
  • Fair and Just Prosecution
  • Federal Public & Community Defenders
  • Howard S. and Deborah Jonas Foundation
  • Innocence Project
  • International Legal Foundation
  • Marc Levin, Chief Policy Counsel, Council on Criminal Justice
  • NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
  • Clark Neily, Senior Vice President for Legal Studies, Cato Institute
  • Norman L. Reimer, Esq., former Executive Director, NACDL, former CEO, Fair Trials
  • Right On Crime
  • Robert Rose III
  • The Sentencing Project
  • Stand Together
  • Tzedek Association

Contacts

Kate Holden, NACDL Public Affairs and Communications Associate, (202) 465-7624 or kholden@nacdl.org

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.

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