Misdemeanor Machinery: The Hidden Heart of the American Criminal Justice System

By Winer, Brandon A.; Carlin, Hannah D. | Boston University Law Review, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Misdemeanor Machinery: The Hidden Heart of the American Criminal Justice System


Winer, Brandon A., Carlin, Hannah D., Boston University Law Review


Misdemeanor courts across the nation chum through millions of cases each year. Misdemeanors are understudied by scholars and underreported by the media. While these cases may be less significant than felonies in the eyes of the public, they have far-reaching consequences in the lives of individual defendants. Collateral consequences often far outstrip criminal sanctions and affect defendants' housing, employment, education, and status in the United States. As Professor Malcolm M. Feeley aptly put it, "the process is the punishment."

Periodically, attention is drawn to the misdemeanor courts. This tends to occur in times of discontent and unrest. Historically, reform efforts have largely been short-lived or entirely unsuccessful. But in the wake of public attention to misdemeanor practices in Ferguson, Missouri, the time is ripe for reform.

A dedicated group of scholars met at Boston University School of Law to explore the misdemeanor machinery on November 3-4, 2017. The conference featured both scholars and practitioners seeking to define "misdemeanor," empirically analyze the misdemeanor system in the United States, explore the ramifications of misdemeanor charges, identify ethical concerns, and propose meaningful reform. The pieces in this Symposium Issue represent each of these perspectives and offer thoughtful next steps for research and reform.

In the Symposium's Opening Keynote Address, Professor Malcom M. Feeley revisits his past research regarding criminal justice, finding his conclusions even more apt than he initially thought. Noting American Political Development scholars' contributions, Feeley points to organizational theory as an explanatory lens for understanding flaws in America's enforcement and adjudicative structures. Feeley notes that the American system is characterized by decentralization and local variation, and he argues that it is exceedingly difficult to hold officials accountable for their shortcomings. After brief case studies of initiatives targeting algorithmic bail determinations, pretrial diversion, and electronic monitoring-finding each tinged with a flawed faith in the adversarial system-Feeley concludes by drawing our eyes both abroad and back to our colonial history to adopt a new, more realistic baseline for future criminal justice reform discussions.

Professors Megan Stevenson and Sandra Mayson challenge the conventional notion that the number of annual misdemeanor cases is rising. In The Scale of Misdemeanor Justice, Stevenson and Mayson collect and analyze data from around the United States to provide a current, comprehensive, nation-wide analysis of misdemeanor criminal justice caseloads in the United States. Their analysis demonstrates that the number of annual misdemeanor arrests and cases filed has actually declined in recent years.

In The Innocence Movement and Misdemeanors, Professor Jenny Roberts argues that the Innocence Movement will not be able to rely on the models it developed for DNA exonerations as it works to overturn misdemeanor convictions. Although certain techniques, including laboratory tests and video recordings, display some similarities to DNA in that they may help exonerate the wrongfully convicted by proving factual innocence, these types of evidence have severe limitations. Roberts also argues that rather than merely focusing only on exonerating the factually innocent, the Innocence Movement must focus on exposing and reforming the injustices the current misdemeanor system perpetrates.

In The History of Misdemeanor Bail, Professor Shima Baradaran Baughman contrasts the historical use of bail in misdemeanor cases with some contemporary narratives and analyzes the theoretical backing for treating misdemeanors as less serious offenses. She criticizes courts' current practice of incarcerating those misdemeanor defendants who cannot afford bail. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Misdemeanor Machinery: The Hidden Heart of the American Criminal Justice System
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.