The scales of justice seem to be tipped heavily in favor of Montgomery County prosecutors, who have compiled a 98-percent conviction rate through June.The overall conviction rate, which includes guilty pleas as well as trial verdicts, was 98 percent between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to the countyÃs mid-year conviction rate statistics.
"That means that only two people out of 100 who walk into the Montgomery County Courthouse charged with a crime walk out without a conviction," explained District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. "I would venture to say that there is no office any place in the country that does better than that."
Even more significant, prosecutors believe, is the statistic that shows that so far this year prosecutors won 87 percent of all criminal cases that went to trial either before a jury or a judge. Of the 60 trials during the six-month period, 52 resulted in guilty verdicts, according to the statistics.
The statistics indicate that defendants who rolled the dice against prosecutors had only a 13 percent chance of being acquitted.
First Assistant District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman believes the high conviction rate is a testament to the skills of investigators and prosecutors. She said the statistics show that when someone commits a crime in Montgomery County and they get arrested, the likelihood of being convicted is extremely strong.
"Defense attorneys and their clients know that when they have a case and theyÃre coming up against our office in court that weÃre going to do the job right," Ferman said.
"We're going to make sure the investigation was done properly. We're going to make sure that we have the evidence that we need to move forward and that weÃre going to do the job the right way so that justice can be done in our courts."
The conviction rate statistics are significant, Castor and Ferman said, because they can affect the entire judicial process. A high trial conviction rate tends to drive more guilty pleas.
"When they know the likely result is going to be [a guilty verdict], they're more inclined to want to accept responsibility for what they did and see if they can get a judge to impose a lighter sentence," Ferman said.
Defense lawyers like to know what their chances are of winning are in a courtroom. Often thatÃs how lawyers decide what strategy to undertake Ã³ either go to trial or opt for a plea arrangement.
When defense lawyers have weak cases and are faced with statistics that show prosecutors consistently win guilty verdicts at trial, they're more likely to suggest their client strike a plea agreement under which some charges may be dropped.
Additionally, a defendant who enters a guilty plea is more likely to meet a more merciful judge than a defendant who monopolizes the courtÃs time and effort by forcing a trial.
Castor said plea agreements are not a bad thing and should not carry a negative connotation. Negotiated pleas are essential for an efficient judicial system, he said.
During the first six months of this year, the trials division recorded 2,760 guilty pleas taken by judges.
Statistics for those cases that were weighed by a jury of 12 citizens between Jan. 1 and June 30 show there were 14 jury trials in county court and only two people were acquitted of the charges Ã³ a conviction rate of 86 percent. For the first half of 2007, there were 46 cases tried before a judge and 40 of those resulted in guilty verdicts, a conviction rate of 87 percent, according to the statistics.
Between 1989 and 2006, the annual trial conviction rate ranged from a low of 69.5 percent in 1992 to a high of 89 percent in 2004.
Castor said the high overall conviction rates are a reflection of the good police work throughout the county.
"The fact we have this level of success means the police in our county do their job very, very well," Castor said. "The citizens are getting their moneyÃs worth from these cops and these prosecutors."
"We have the assistant district attorneys work very closely with the local police at the earliest stages of investigations," Ferman added. "By working hand-in-hand, they make sure at the front-end of the case that everything is done properly."