Bulk Misdemeanor Justice
8 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2013
Date Written: February 11, 2013
This short essay responds to Alexandra Natapoff’s article Misdemeanors, which shines a much-needed spotlight on the mass production of criminal justice and injustice in millions of low-level cases. The prime culprit in Natapoff’s story is the hidden, informal discretion that police officers enjoy to arrest, charge, and effect convictions, abetted by prosecutors’ and judges’ abdication and defense counsel’s absence or impotence. The roots of the problem she identifies, I argue, go all the way down to the system’s professionalization and mechanization. Given the magnitude of the problem, Natapoff’s solutions are surprisingly half-hearted, masking the deeper structural problems that demand wholesale reforms. Systemic change, I argue, is a worthwhile ideal even though it is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Keywords: criminal procedure, prosecutorial discretion, criminal charging decisions, plea bargaining, police discretion, adversarial and inquisitorial models, professionalization, accountability, resource constraints, prosecutorial incentives, police incentives, Alexandra Natapoff
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