An Indictment Is as Good as a Conviction: 99.8% Success Rate

A criminal indictment nearly guarantees conviction in today's local legal system, according to Central Bureau of Statistics data.

CBS data show that the conviction rates in 2003 and 2004 criminal cases stand at 99.8 percent. This means that in cases brought before court, only two in every 1,000 suspects are acquitted.

The immediate implication of this data is that the real power to impose criminal turpitude on an individual is not in the hands of the court, but that of the prosecution and police. This, however, has not always been the case: When the state was established, the legal system's conviction rate was much lower - less than 70 percent. In other words, a suspect who refused to admit guilt in a plea bargain had nearly a one in three chance of being acquitted.

At that time, "presumed innocent" really meant something.

This statistic, however, needs to be qualified on several levels. First, it takes into account only those cases that actually reach court. In reality, the vast majority of criminal cases investigated by the police and brought before its legal counsel or the prosecution for a potential indictment are closed due to insufficient evidence or lack of public interest. Only a few cases go to court, and they are the ones with the greatest potential for a guilty verdict.

Second, according to the data, a conviction on at least one of the charges in an indictment is defined as a conviction. Therefore, even if an indictment includes 10 charges against a defendant and he was acquited on nine of them, it is still recorded as a conviction.

Most noteworthy, however, is the extensive practice of plea bargaining, which is used on a massive scale and leads to bloated conviction rates.

Ninety percent of all convictions are reached when a defendant admits to charges in court, saving all sides the time-consuming process of bringing in witnesses and conducting cross-examinations. Plea bargains have been described as a "necessary evil," but it seems that the prosecution now considers them to be a true necessity: the door to a negotiated plea bargain is always open.

"The increase in the number of convictions occurs mostly in cases that are easy to investigate and easy to convict, and come at the expense of more important violations, which are more difficult to expose," a senior law enforcement officer said. "The data regarding a significant rise in the number of convictions in Israel does not reflect a better police force, but rather the opposite," he added.

The same source said that in recent years, there has been a change in the way sex offense and domestic violence cases are tried here.

"There's no doubt that Israeli society and the media are making an impact on the severity of the punishment," he said. "I don't want to say that the judges want to be popular, because this shades the rulings in a problematic way, but courts today are certainly aware of the public's wishes," the source said.

"If in the past, judges sentenced people to a year imprisonment for a particular violation, now they sentence them to four years," he said. "This means that there is an increase in the number of those imprisoned in Israel."