By Professor Alexandra Natapoff
Yesterday, people across America pleaded guilty to crimes they didn't commit. This isn't something new or extraordinary. Every year, the American criminal system punishes thousands of people who are not guilty. These routine wrongful convictions never make it into headlines because they are misdemeanors, petty offenses like trespassing, disorderly conduct, or loitering. Minor offenses are largely ignored because we are usually focused on the felonies--the rapes, murders, drug crimes, and robberies. But felonies are actually exceptional. Approximately 1 million felony convictions are entered every year; more than 10 million misdemeanor cases are filed in the same time. In most states, misdemeanor dockets are four or five times the size of felony dockets. If you ever enter the American criminal justice system, odds are it will be for a misdemeanor. They may be seen as small-time offenses, but collectively how we process misdemeanors represents an immense and influential public institution. Something so powerful deserves far deeper scrutiny.
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