85 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1313 (2011-2012)
Misdemeanors

handle is hein.journals/scal85 and id is 1347 raw text is: MISDEMEANORS
ALEXANDRA NATAPOFF*
ABSTRACT
Misdemeanor convictions are typically dismissed as low-level events
that do not deserve the attention or due process accorded to felonies. And
yet, ten million petty cases are filed every year, and the vast majority of
U.S. convictions are misdemeanors. In comparison to felony adjudication,
misdemeanor processing is largely informal and deregulated,
characterized by high-volume arrests, weak prosecutorial screening, an
impoverished defense bar, and high plea rates. Together, these
characteristics generate convictions in bulk, often without meaningful
scrutiny of whether those convictions are supported by evidence. Indeed,
innocent misdemeanants routinely plead guilty to get out of jail because
they cannot afford bail. The consequences of these convictions are
significant: in addition to the stigma of a criminal record, misdemeanants
are often heavily fined or incarcerated, and can lose jobs, housing, or
educational opportunities. In other words, petty convictions are growing
more frequent and burdensome even as we devote fewer institutional
resources to ensuring their validity.
The misdemeanor phenomenon has profound systemic implications. It
invites skepticism about whether thousands of individual misdemeanants
are actually guilty. It reveals an important structural feature of the
criminal system: that due process and rule of law wane at the bottom of the
penal pyramid where offenses are pettiest and defendants are poorest. And
it is a key ingredient in the racialization of crime, because misdemeanor
processing is the mechanism by which poor defendants of color are swept
up into the criminal system (in other words, criminalized) with little or no
* Professor of Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. Many thanks to Ron Allen, Stephanos
Bibas, Rick Bierschbach, Brie Clark, Sharon Dolovich, Sam Gross, Don Herzog, Tom Morawetz, Doug
NeJaime, Sam Pillsbury, Marcy Strauss, Ahmed White, and participants at the UC Irvine Faculty
Workshop. This Article was supported by the Loyola Faculty Research Fellowship Program.

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