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The plea-bargaining process works to the advantage of both sides; it saves the state the time and money that would be spent on a trial, and it permits defendants who think they might be convicted of a serious charge to plead guilty to a lesser one. A study of sentencing patterns in three California counties discovered that a larger proportion of defendants who went to trial ended up going to prison compared with those who pleaded guilty and had no trial. In answer to their question “Does it pay to plead guilty?” the researchers gave a qualified yes.126Good or bad, plea bargaining is a practicalnecessity. Only a vast increase in resources would allow the court system to cope with a trial for every defendant. In 2012 the Supreme Court recognized the dominant role plea bargaining plays in criminal law when it held in two cases that defendants have a right to an effective lawyer during pretrial negotiations.127SPEEDY TRIAL. The defendants in the 300,000 cases per year that actually go to trial are entitled to many rights, including the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury, which is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. It is not clear what constitutes a speedy trial. The national and state governments have laws specifying the time within which prosecutors must bring defendants to trial, but there are many exclusions from the laws, and delays are frequent. Judges can dismiss a case if they find a delay was prejudicial to the defendant. However, the speedy trial requirement does not apply to sentencing after conviction.128IMPARTIAL JURY. An impartial jury includes one that is not racially biased (one from which potential jurors of the defendant’s race have been excluded)129or one in which a juror openly relies on racial stereotypes or
animus to convict a defendant).130Lawyers for both sides spend hours questioning prospective jurors in a major case. Defendants, of course, prefer a jury that is biased toward them, and those who can afford it do not leave jury selection to chance. A sophisticated technology of jury selection has developed. Jury consultants—often psychologists or other social scientists—develop profiles of jurors likely to be sympathetic or hostile to a defendant.The right to a fair trial is central to our view of justice. Yet trials are relatively rare in the United States. Most cases are decided through plea bargaining.The Constitution does not specify the size of a jury; in principle, it could be anywhere from 1 to 100 people. Tradition in England and America has set jury size at 12, although in petty cases 6 jurors are sometimes used.
Traditionally, too, a jury had to be unanimous in order to convict. The Supreme Court has eroded both traditions, permitting states to use fewer than 12 jurors and to convict with a less-than-unanimous vote. Federal courtsstill employ juries of 12 persons and require unanimous votes for a criminal conviction.
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Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution