Former President Trump pleaded not guilty to federal criminal charges related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents after his departure from the White House in 2021. The unprecedented charges raise the question: How common is it for defendants in federal criminal cases to plead not guilty, go to trial and ultimately be acquitted?
In fiscal year 2022, only 290 of 71,954 defendants in federal criminal cases – about 0.4% – were acquitted at trial, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the latest federal judiciary statistics. Another 1,379 went to trial and were found guilty (1.9%).
The overwhelming majority of defendants did not go to trial at all. About nine-in-ten (89.5%) pleaded guilty, while another 8.2% had their case dismissed at some point, says the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
The statistics do not include federal defendants whose cases were handled by magistrate judges. Defendants who entered pleas of “no contest,” in which they accept criminal punishment but do not admit guilt, are also excluded.
Trump’s case is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, where acquittal rates look similar to the national average. In fiscal 2022, only 12 of 1,944 defendants in that district, about 0.6%, were acquitted at trial. As was the case nationally, the vast majority of defendants in the district (86.2%) pleaded guilty that year, while 10.7% had their cases dismissed
The charges against Trump are rare. In fiscal 2022, more than eight-in-ten federal criminal defendants faced charges related to one of four other broad categories of crime: drug offenses (31%), immigration offenses (25%), firearms and explosives offenses (16%) or property offenses (11%).
Congressional Republicans are at odds about whether to Trump next year if he’s convicted of federal crimes, NBC News reports.
While some GOP lawmakers say they couldn’t support a convicted felon for the White House, others are reluctant to close the door. The divisions scramble ideological lines, with some of the most right-leaning Republicans expressing unease with backing Trump after a still-hypothetical conviction, while various center-right GOP members say their responses would depend on circumstances.
Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, one of the most conservative House Republicans, said he would not be OK having a convicted felon as the GOP’s 2024 nominee.
“No. Honestly, on the surface, I wouldn’t. It doesn’t look good,” Burchett said. “But let’s see what the conviction says. Let’s see if he is convicted.”
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), who has criticized GOP leaders from the right, said a felony conviction would be a deal breaker. “I certainly won’t support a convicted felon for the White House,” Buck said.
Most of the 18 House Republicans who represent competitive districts that President Joe Biden won in 2020 have remained silent or avoided discussing the charges. Democrats are seeking to use the issue against them politically by casting the Trump-supporting GOP as a party that stands against law enforcement.