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What you should know about the federal government’s conviction rate

| Apr 19, 2021 | Federal Crimes

It doesn’t matter what kind of criminal charges you’re facing: You’re worried. But hearing that you’re facing federal charges instead of state charges can automatically make your anxiety over your situation even worse.

Not only are federal charges generally subject to stiffer penalties upon conviction, but the federal government also has a relatively high conviction rate. Knowing more about the statistics and facts can help you make a more informed choice about your defense. 

How many defendants does the federal government successfully convict?

Data published by the Pew Research Center in 2019 highlighted how federal prosecutors have a 99.6% conviction rate. To put those numbers in perspective, U.S. Attorneys filed 79,704 cases in 2018. Of those, only 320 resulted in acquittals. 

It’s important to remember, however, that many cases end in plea deals — which count as a “win” for the prosecution. Pew Research Center’s data shows that defendants facing federal criminal charges only took their cases to trial at the following rates in 2018:

  • Immigration offenses: 1%
  • Drug offenses: 2%
  • Property offenses: 4%
  • Violent crimes: 7%

Federal prosecutors have unlimited funds available to investigate crimes. This is one reason many legal analysts suspect that the conviction rate at the federal level is so high. It may also be why there’s been a 60% decline in the number of cases proceeding to trial during the past two decades. 

Pew Research Center’s data also shows that defendants who pursue a trial experience different outcomes based on whether they choose a bench or jury trial. The acquittal rate in bench trials is 38%, whereas it’s 14% for juried trials.

How to proceed in your federal case

Despite these odds, your federal criminal case is not hopeless. If a case is dropped, it doesn’t figure into the statistics — and your case may eventually be dropped for a lack of evidence. Or, you may be able to negotiate a plea agreement that doesn’t involve jail time. And, if you’re forced into a trial, you now have the insights that can help you decide whether a bench trial or jury trial is better.

Whatever the situation, it’s vitally important to work with an experienced defense attorney.