Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Alexandra Natapoff's "Punishment Without Crime"

Alexandra Natapoff is Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal, and reported the following:
Every year, 13 million misdemeanor cases are filed across the United States. Although those cases make up 80 percent of the American criminal system, we pay shockingly little attention to them. Typically written off as “minor” and “petty,” misdemeanors actually have very serious consequences, both for the individuals who encounter the petty offense process, and for the integrity of the entire justice apparatus. Punishment Without Crime analyzes the full scope and influence of that enormous misdemeanor machinery.

For example, the misdemeanor system does not always work the way it should. Thousands of defendants are rushed through a legal process that puts heavy pressure on them to plead guilty. Sometimes defendants cannot afford to pay bail and so they plead guilty simply in order to get out of jail. Misdemeanor defendants also routinely do not get lawyers. When they do, public defenders are often overwhelmed with hundreds of cases and therefore cannot investigate or litigate meaningfully on behalf of their clients. As a result, many people accept minor convictions without challenging the evidence, exercising their legal rights, or understanding the full consequences of their decisions.

Page 99 of Punishment Without Crime is part of the chapter entitled “Innocence,” which explains in detail how this fast and sloppy process naturally generates wrongful convictions. On page 99, for example, a New York public defender describes how innocent misdemeanor defendants often plead guilty. “[I have] a disgraceful number of innocent clients,” he says. His clients are innocent because misdemeanor arrests and minor criminal charges can too easily be triggered by unreliable evidence—a flawed drug test, for example, or an arrest that lacks probable cause. All too often, that evidence will never be checked for accuracy. Defendants can thus experience strong pressure to plead guilty to crimes they may not have actually committed. Because such dynamics are common, misdemeanor wrongful convictions probably occur thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of times every year.
Visit Alexandra Natapoff's website.

The Page 99 Test: Snitching.

--Marshal Zeringue