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Why issues arise in America's misdemeanor system

Misdemeanors -- small criminal offenses that are punishable by a maximum of one year in jail -- are a big part of the legal system throughout California and the rest of America. In fact, misdemeanors constitute about 80 percent of all arrests as well as 80 percent of state dockets, according to FBI arrest data. As a result, the number of misdemeanor cases that are filed annually can reach 13 million, which is an enormous number.

The fact that there are so many misdemeanor cases filed every year is a problem that often creates inequality. To begin with, this large number of cases overwhelms defenders, prosecutors and judges. Furthermore, it prohibits defenders from investigating each case and giving it its due attention. In fact, with such a large caseload, defenders tend to feel obligated to settle as quickly as possible, urging their clients to take a plea deal rather than to file motions and to litigate constitutional issues. Consequently, it should come as no shock that innocent people can get wrongly convicted.

To make matters worse, studies show that when it comes to plea agreements, racial bias is a mitigating factor that can make the difference between walking away and serving jail time. In a nutshell, Caucasians have a 75 percent higher chance than African Americans of having incriminating charges dropped or reduced.

Fortunately, there is some effort being done to reform the misdemeanor system. For instance, reducing arrests has proven to be a successful strategy. Also, prosecutors are encouraged to use more discretion in deciding which cases to pursue and which cases to drop, especially if the arrest itself was enough punishment.

All that being said, it's usually smart for a defendant to reach out to a professional lawyer who can give a case careful attention rather than leaving it in the hands of an overburdened public defender. Furthermore, a lawyer will not feel pressured to enter a plea deal quickly. This might present a defendant with their best chance at achieving justice.

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Law Offices of Catherine A. Schwartz
6877 Magnolia Avenue
Riverside, CA 92506

Phone: 951-335-0510
Fax: 951-686-8195
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