University of Southern California

Our Broken Misdemeanor Justice System: Its Problems and Some Potential Solutions

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Postscript (Response) by Eve Brensike Primus
July, 2012

Although misdemeanors comprise an overwhelming majority of state criminal court cases, little judicial and scholarly attention has been focused on how misdemeanor courts actually operate. In her article, Misdemeanors, Alexandra Natapoff rights this wrong and explains how the low-visibility, highly discretionary decisions made by actors at the misdemeanor level often result in rampant discrimination, incredible inefficiency, and vast miscarriages of justice. Misdemeanors makes a significant contribution to the literature by refocusing attention on the importance of misdemeanor offenses and beginning an important dialogue about what steps should be taken going forward to fix our broken misdemeanor justice system.

Natapoff amasses an impressive amount of data and material to explain both the prominence of misdemeanor convictions in our justice system and the many problems with how our misdemeanor system operates. She rightly points out that legislative overcriminalization coupled with conflicting police responsibilities and vast police discretion has created a system in which poor people of color are routinely arrested for misdemeanor offenses even when there is little evidence to support their arrests.

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