Kirkus Star


How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal
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A criminal defense lawyer and law professor uses her knowledge and experience to expose the abuse of tens of millions of individuals charged by police with misdemeanors.

Those who pay attention to the news are well-aware of wrongful convictions in highly publicized domestic assaults, rapes, murders, and other felonies due to flaws within the criminal justice system. Much less visible are the approximately 13 million misdemeanors filed each year across the United States against alleged jaywalkers, trespassers, parking-meter violators, drivers who don’t buckle their seat belts, possessors of marijuana in small amounts, and other minor offenses. Through unprecedented research that fills a previously large gap in the literature, Guggenheim Fellow Natapoff (Law/Univ. of California, Irvine; Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice, 2009, etc.) demonstrates how the filing and prosecution in misdemeanor cases often lead to innocent defendants pleading guilty, outcomes that might permanently ruin opportunities for meaningful future employment, housing availability, and income earning potential. Unsurprisingly, the author demonstrates an outsized negative impact on people of color and, more generally, individuals who live in poverty. Natapoff’s presentation of her meticulously researched data is impressive, but the most compelling portions of the book are the case studies of individuals across the country, some of whom have been the author’s clients. She offers a chapter of history that helps explain how the decentralized U.S. court system broke down in nearly every one of its many jurisdictions. Perhaps the most serious constitutional violation is the huge percentage of defendants appearing before a judge without a defense lawyer appointed. The judges are not always lawyers themselves, and the only appearance on behalf of the government is often the police officer who made the arrest. Natapoff presents common-sense solutions, but some of them will require significant funding, and all of them will require compassion and new ways of thinking from police, prosecutors, and judges.

A searing, groundbreaking study of criminology and sociology.

Pub Date: Dec. 31st, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-465-09379-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2018


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