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How Plea Bargains Made Jury Trials An Anachronism In The U.S.

Lady Justice, law, court
Flickr Photo/Mark Treble (CC BY NC 2.0)
File photo.

"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Thomas Paine in 1789.

That sentiment begs the question: Would Jefferson recognize the United States justice system today?

Ninety-seven percent of criminal cases in the U.S. result in plea bargains that do not determine guilt or innocence. Only 3 percent go to trial by jury. 

How did the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury in all criminal prosecutions, with the assistance of counsel, become an anachronism?

Seattle attorney Kelly Vomacka has answers to these questions. She’s a criminal defense lawyer with extensive knowledge of how plea deals work. 

Vomacka is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and Seattle University and the founder of Solanus Casey Legal Services. She’s working on a book about legal jurisdiction.

Vomacka spoke at the 7th annual Smoke Farm Symposium on Aug. 22. Smoke Farm is a program center and events venue run by the Seattle-based nonprofit organization Rubicon Foundation. 

Photo credit: "Blind Justice 3," by Mark Treble on Flickr (CC BY NC 2.0)

Year started with KUOW: 2006