Merrell Law Firm, LLC

Advocates seek to reform misdemeanor system

Though felony criminal cases in Alabama receive most of the news publicity, it is the misdemeanor cases that take up most of a court's workload. A misdemeanor is a less serious criminal charge that can be punished by no more than a year in jail.

Justice reform advocates have pointed out some of the more unfortunate consequences of the present misdemeanor prosecution system. As misdemeanors constitute nearly 80 percent of the United State's caseload, judges cannot or will not devote substantial time to most individual cases. That's why some courts will discourage defense attorneys from raising constitutional issues. This can be true even when the issue raised has merit.

Public defenders usually do not have sufficient time or resources to investigate a misdemeanor case. Without adequate resources to defend this type of case, charges are usually resolved by plea bargain. Unfortunately, studies have shown major racial disparities in misdemeanor cases. Minority defendants have a far smaller chance of reduced charges or avoiding jail time.

Though misdemeanor cases are relatively minor in the eyes of the law, a defendant can suffer heavy consequences. In many cases, there is a possibility of jail time. Debts incurred through fines and court costs can wreak havoc on the finances of the defendant, especially those with limited means. A conviction can affect present and future employment opportunities.

A defendant facing a misdemeanor charge should take the matter seriously and consider the possible penalties involved. To help ensure a fair legal process, the person charged may want to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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