The enormous misdemeanor system is an increasingly important and fertile area of criminal justice reform. With over 10 million cases filed each year, vastly outnumbering felonies, the petty-offense process is how most Americans experience the criminal justice system. Characterized largely by speed, informality, and a lack of regulation and transparency, the petty-offense process generates millions of criminal convictions as well as burdensome punishments that affect employment, housing, education, and immigration. This chapter explains the major policy issues raised by the misdemeanor system, including its assembly-line quality, high rates of wrongful conviction, its racial skew, and how it quietly impoverishes working people and the poor. Key targets of reform include arrest, bail, prosecutorial policies, the right to counsel, diversion, decriminalization, debtor’s prison, criminal records, and collateral consequences.

Natapoff, Alexandra, Misdemeanors (August 15, 2017). Chapter IN: Academy For Justice, A Report On Scholarship And Criminal Justice Reform (Erik Luna ed. 2017, Forthcoming); UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2017-41. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3019577

Alexandra Natapoff

Alexandra Natapoff is Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, and currently a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School.  She is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow; her new book, Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal (Basic Books), is forthcoming in December 2018.  She is also author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (NYU Press, 2009), which won the ABA Silver Gavel Award Honorable Mention for Books, and co-editor of The New Criminal Justice Thinking (NYU Press, 2017), which received a 2017 Choice Academic Title Award.  Professor Natapoff is an Adviser to the ALI Principles of the Law Policing Project.


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