The State of California reports that nearly 90% of all criminal cases never go to trial. This includes Orange County felony, and misdemeanor charges of all types. When a layperson learns about that, they are usually shocked, as their exposure to the legal system comes first from television and movies, where cases go to trial all the time.
Why jury trials are not more common has to do with the resources of the court. Jury trials use a lot of resources. The county spends money on the judge’s salary, but also the court clerks, courtroom staff like a court reporter, and security, including a bailiff in each courtroom, and security at all the courthouse entrances.
Most of those are fixed costs, but they are spread out over all the defendants, or clients, that come through the system. When a court hears a case as a trial, the court devotes all those resources to one case. When each judge handles less cases average, new judges, and thus new courtroom staff, have to be hired.
In the Orange County District Attorney’s office, there is also a limit to the number of prosecutors that can try every case. Most courtrooms have a few prosecutors handling tens of cases, in some cases, over 50 per day. If each case has to be devoted time and effort to, they would run out of prosecutors fairly quickly.
This is one of the reasons why the courts, and judges, in civil and criminal cases, encourage settlements and plea bargains. A plea bargain or settlement of any court case is the most efficient, and economical way to resolve a case.
When resources are being used to have jury trials, they aren’t being used to resolve cases, which is a terrible inefficiency. So the court calendars for every judge in the system gets backed up. In Riverside County a few years ago, they had to put all civil cases on hold and have the civil judges handle criminal trials, which take priority over all other matters, until the backlog was to normal levels. “Justice delayed is justice denied”, as the saying goes.
Why are jury trials not more common? The entire criminal defense system relies on defendants agreeing to plea bargains. If every defendant demanded a jury trial, which is always their constitutional right, the entire system would grind to a halt in about a year.
The court system, which serves the legislature by prosecuting and upholding its laws, and is thus somewhat political (including political appointments for judges and prosecutors for each county) is also subject to criticism. If the court calendars are backed up, then the judges, some of which are elected, and some of which are appointed by the governor, as well as the Orange County prosecutor, are going to be criticized in the press for not doing the job they are supposed to be doing. In the case of the OC District Attorney, the criticism would be on top of other scandals.
Everyone knows that if the people of Orange County are not happy with their elected judges and the Orange County District Attorney, then they are going to elect someone else next time they have the opportunity.
Our democratic republic puts certain pressures on everyone involved. It requires justice, which in turn requires resources, to be practical. While this system is not infallible, I believe, and most involved in the system on a daily basis, believe, that the just result is reached more often than not.
Contact our criminal defense firm if you have questions about jury trials in Orange County.