Hugh Pickens writes "The U.S. Bill of Rights guarantees the accused basic safeguards, including a fair and speedy jury trial, but in this era of mass incarceration — when our nation's prison population has quintupled in a few decades — these rights are, for the overwhelming majority of people hauled into courtrooms across America, theoretical. More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury, in part because the Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that threatening someone with life imprisonment for a minor crime in an effort to induce him to forfeit a jury trial did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to trial. 'The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,' says Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute. Now Susan Burton, head of 'A New Way of Life' (PDF), is helping to start a movement to demand restoration of Americans' basic civil and human rights by asking people who have been charged with crimes to reject plea bargains, and press for trial. 'Can we crash the system just by exercising our rights?' Burton says if everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation."
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