Misdemeanors account for the vast majority of criminal dockets in courts in Illinois and around the country. Public defenders, prosecutors and courts struggle to keep up with the pace of frequent misdemeanor arrests.
Most misdemeanor cases result in plea deals. Recent studies on criminal defense suggest that there is a great disparity based on race and the harshness of a plea deal. The racial disparity for misdemeanor cases may even be greater than it is for felonies. One study found that Caucasian defendants were over 75 percent more likely to have their charges dismissed or reduced to lesser charges than African Americans.
The current justice system also unfairly punishes the poor due to fee schedules, court costs and harsh penalties for non-payment. Many people who are too poor to pay their fines must wait in jail and must face a longer wait to speak to an attorney than those who are able to afford to hire one. Misdemeanors can cost a person time in jail and an overwhelming amount of debt, and many individuals also face changes in their immigration status, job loss and loss of housing due to misdemeanor convictions. Some types of misdemeanor charges can disqualify individuals from government benefits.
Individuals who have been charged with a misdemeanor may benefit from speaking to a criminal defense attorney about their case. An attorney may be able to lessen the harsh impact that some charges can have by getting charges dropped or negotiating a deal to keep the conviction off a person’s record. Many people choose to plead guilty without an attorney, but this is often a mistake since they can face consequences for the conviction for years to come.