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Aggregation and Urban Misdemeanors

Alexandra Natapoff

Loyola Law School Los Angeles

November 2, 2012

Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 40, 2013
Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-43

The urban misdemeanor process employs a wide variety of informal aggregations. Order maintenance police arrest large numbers of people based on neighborhood and group generalizations. Prosecutors and public defenders negotiate entire classes of minor plea bargains quickly and generically, and the vast majority of defendants plead guilty without scrutiny of their cases. Urban courts process hundreds of cases en masse. At each stage, the pressure to aggregate weakens and sometimes eliminates individuated scrutiny of defendants and the evidence in their cases; people are largely evaluated, convicted, and punished by category and based on institutional habit. This wholesale process of creating criminal convictions in the aggregate is in deep tension with core precepts of criminal law, most fundamentally the idea that criminal guilt is an individuated concept reflecting the defendant’s personal culpability.

This Article traces the influence of different sorts of aggregation through each step of the urban misdemeanor process, demonstrating how that process has effectively abandoned the individuated model of guilt and lost many of the essential characteristics of a “criminal” system of legal judgment. It then explores civil scholarship’s insights into the substantive power that informal aggregations can exert over liability rules and outcomes, in particular how mass settlement scenarios can effectively create no fault liability regimes with high risks of fraud. The Article concludes that the misdemeanor system as it currently stands should be reconceptualized as not entirely criminal in nature.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 48

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Date posted: November 4, 2012 ; Last revised: October 15, 2013

Suggested Citation

Natapoff, Alexandra, Aggregation and Urban Misdemeanors (November 2, 2012). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 40, 2013; Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-43. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2170554

Contact Information

Alexandra Natapoff (Contact Author)
Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )
919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-8397 (Phone)
213-380-3769 (Fax)

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