It’s definite now. I think we finally have definitive proof that when 2012 comes rolling in, the world will end.
Seriously though, I thought I would never see the day where the amount of criminal cases going to trial would actually exceed the number of civil cases getting their day in court. But apparently, according to the Wall Street Journal, that is what’s exactly happening in courts all over America today. Who knew one of the Four Horsemen would come in the form of judicial equilibrium?
The report cites a number of reasons for the uptick in criminal court trials. Some of them include an increase in prosecution of drug and immigration offenses, along with a general growth of new criminal laws carrying new penalties on both the state and federal level. But interestingly enough, the article also cites the large number of judgeship vacancies on the federal bench as one of the reasons why less civil cases are getting their day in court.
This is definitely a surprise to me considering that, in my opinion anyway, being a judge is one of the cushiest jobs in the world. The salary can easily be in the six figures, the hours of work are basically whenever the judge feels like coming in, and let’s not forget about the respect and prestige that comes with being a federal judge. But it seems like all these factors isn’t enough to keep the bench stocked with judges since about 67 of the 677 district court judge positions remain empty. Meanwhile, the amount of federal criminal cases has gone up over 70 percent since the last decade. All of this ends up causing civil cases to be put on the backburner until the criminal docket across the country are resolved first.
The strange thing about the coverage of this new development is the negative spin it’s getting from the media. The overriding consensus from all the reporting I’ve seen on the matter so far has been that it’s hurting both big business and the little men and women of the world from getting the justice they deserve.
Now while I agree that all citizens should have the right to have their issues resolve by the courts, for years criminal defendants have been getting the shaft when it came to being able to exercise their right to a jury trial. I mean, there are entire Wikipedia pages dedicated to the problem.
Plea bargaining is the worst offender of them all. In the short term, criminal defendants get a seemingly good deal. Generally, in exchange for pleading guilty a defendant will be given no jail time, time-served, a reduced fine, and/or in some cases no prosecution at all (usually that last one comes in the form of a The Wire-esque quid pro quo).
But the problem with this system is that unless you’re rich or have some other equally rare blessing in life, copping a guilty plea and getting a conviction on your record is something that follows you for the rest of your life. A conviction on your record is kind of like have an annoying sidekick always following you around and screwing up your job interview or licking his shoes clean while you’re at your boss’s wedding. It’s not something that you want to have, and though you may be able to tolerate its wacky antics and schedule your life around it’s zaniness, it’s not something that you should have to do.
So I say, good for you criminal justice system. You finally achieved a little more parity in how you decide to send our country’s citizens to the slammer.
But what do you guys out there think about all of this? Do you think it’s fair that civil cases are being delayed in order to hear criminal trials first?