Throughout Virginia courtrooms and across the United States, the number of misdemeanor arrests and charges appear to be swelling. While there is no definitive nationwide data available, an expert in the field estimates that misdemeanors now take up 80 percent of dockets in the United States.
The revelations about the growth of misdemeanor cases in American courts comes from a new book authored by a former federal public defender. The author came to their conclusions after studying arrest data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government reports.
The result of this enormous misdemeanor caseload is that state courts are overwhelmed. Courts struggle to keep up with the caseload, and public defenders are assigned far more than they can reasonably be expected to handle. The end result is that defendants don’t get a viable defense, resulting in unreliable convictions and defendants pressured to plead guilty.
Of all the parties harmed by this overwhelming growth in misdemeanor cases, it is the poor that face the highest burden. Fines and court fees can pile up with misdemeanor convictions, and many courts will hold defendants on contempt charges if they are unable to pay. These fines and fees fund local courts, which gives the system little motivation to change.
Even though misdemeanors are not the most serious of criminal charges, the consequences of a conviction are still severe. A person convicted of a misdemeanor can face up to a year in jail as well as thousands of dollars in fines. An attorney with experience in criminal defense law may be able to help that person avoid jail time and even have the charges dismissed in some cases.