CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, July 24, 2006

CrimProf Andrew Leipold's Study Finds Federal Judges Acquit More Than Juries

LeipoldFrom According to University of Illinois College of Law CrimProf Andrew Leipold's study of 77,000 federal criminal trials completed from 1989 through 2002, judges holding bench trials, that is without a jury, convicted slightly more than half the time. The average conviction rate for juries was 84 percent.

In addition to finding that judges acquit more often than juries, Leipold discovered that this observation is relatively recent. From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, conviction rates were roughly the same, and before that, "judges actually convicted much more often than juries."

"The core problem," Leipold says, "is to find something about criminal trials that has changed since the late 1980s, something that would affect judges but not juries.

"I think the Sentencing Guidelines best fits this description. The Guidelines took away a huge amount of sentencing discretion, which meant that judges were more often faced with cases where they knew that a conviction would result in a harsh - maybe too harsh - sentence. We don't have to say that judges were acting 'lawlessly' to reach the unremarkable conclusion that judges may hold the government even more tightly to its burden of proof when the stakes are high and unforgiving."

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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