Trials are rare in the federal criminal justice system – and acquittals are even rarer.
Nearly 80,000 people were defendants in federal criminal cases in fiscal 2018, but just 2% of them went to trial. The overwhelming majority (90%) pleaded guilty instead, while the remaining 8% had their cases dismissed, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data collected by the federal judiciary.
Most defendants who did go to trial, meanwhile, were found guilty, either by a jury or judge. (Defendants can waive their right to a jury trial if they wish.)
Put another way, only 320 of 79,704 total federal defendants – fewer than 1% – went to trial and won their cases, at least in the form of an acquittal, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. These statistics include all defendants charged in U.S. district courts with felonies and serious misdemeanors, as well as some defendants charged with petty offenses. They do not include federal defendants whose cases were handled by magistrate judges, or the much broader universe of defendants in state courts. Defendants who enter pleas of “no contest” are also excluded.