Plea agreements have become so common in Ohio that the number of trials by juries or judges has reached a historic low. Just 2.5 percent of criminal cases in Ohio common pleas courts were resolved by going to trial in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the state Supreme Court, reported the Columbus Dispatch.
Common pleas trials in civil cases were even rarer — 1.2 percent statewide.
Supreme Court records show similar trial rates in municipal courts, which hear misdemeanor crime and traffic cases and civil disputes involving $15,000 or less.
The trial rate has been declining for decades. In 1980, 11.2 percent of criminal cases and 16.2 percent of civil cases went to trial in the state’s common pleas courts, said Chris Davey, a Supreme Court spokesman.
In the nation’s federal courts, the rate of civil cases that went to trial fell from 11.5 percent in 1962 to 1.8 percent in 2002, according to “The Vanishing Trial,” a report compiled for the American Bar Association. In 2012, the rate was 1.2 percent.
Significantly increasing the number of trials would be “an expensive proposition,” requiring more prosecutors and public defenders and increased overtime pay for law-enforcement officers to testify, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles Schneider said.
“Just because cases aren’t being tried doesn’t mean they’re being dismissed,” he said. “In large part, they are resolved in a way that both sides think is fair.”
The trend toward fewer trials is a national and troubling phenomenon, said Robert P. Burns, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and author of the book The Death of the American Trial. If the trial rate has appeared to stabilize in recent years, it’s because it can’t get much lower, he said.
“I think this is a big deal. An essential element of American democracy is being squeezed out."
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