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Misdemeanors: Minor offenses with major ramifications

In a previous post, we discussed the fact that misdemeanor traffic offenses can have a surprisingly significant effect on a person’s life. But the fact is that all types of misdemeanors present serious problems.

Too often, people minimize the true impact of misdemeanors because they are "minor offenses." They believe that minor offenses are inconsequential, especially when compared to felonies. However, everyone facing these charges should take them seriously. They deserve to have those in the criminal justice system take them seriously as well.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, as a former federal public defender describes. She says that people facing a misdemeanor offense often get insufficient attention to their case. This happens for numerous reasons, including:

  • How common misdemeanors are (she estimates 13 million cases are filed every year and represent about 80 percent of arrests and state dockets)
  • Lacking resources and motivation to conduct thorough investigations
  • Prosecutorial pressure to avoid filing motions in less serious cases
  • The number of minorities and poor Americans facing charges

These and other factors work against those who are facing misdemeanor charges. As a result, many people wind up pleading guilty, waiting in jail for their trial or paying more money to have charges reduced or dismissed.

This over-extended, unbalanced system causes serious consequences for the people stuck in it. They can wind up losing their jobs, in debt, facing unfair convictions and struggling to rebuild their lives for years after an offense. All for what should be a minor offense.

There are currently efforts underway to ease the strain misdemeanors put on the system and reduce the number of people stuck in jail while waiting for a hearing. However, it will be some time until states implement changes; some jurisdictions have no plans to make such changes.

For these reasons, it is crucial to have a legal representative by your side if you are faced with a misdemeanor charge. Such an offense will not go away on its own, and you have rights worth defending. You are not just another case. The consequences of a misdemeanor are real, and you should have a real defense.

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