The scales of justice are a well-known symbol used to represent the ideals of fairness. Everyone can have faith in a system if bias, privilege and corruption do not determine guilt or innocence. The First Step Act, signed into law in December 2018, is a federal law designed to initiate the start of removing inequities in federal sentencing guidelines. While this is a much-welcomed change for reform advocates, it applies only to federal criminals and felonies. Recent evidence has suggested there is a more widespread problem affecting many New York residents.
Statistics indicate that many state systems for misdemeanors are so overwhelmed by the sheer number of defendants that serious miscarriages of justice occur every day. An estimated 80 percent of the crimes charged in the U.S. are misdemeanors. This translates into roughly 13 million cases.
Public defenders represent a large portion of misdemeanor defendants. These lawyers often have a lack of resources and time to properly investigate each case. Further exacerbating the matter, prosecutors and courts generally push for plea bargain agreements in all but a handful of cases. Studies have shown that whites are 75 percent more likely than blacks to have all charges dropped in plea negotiations. The poor are also disproportionally impacted because fines, fees and penalties often are more burdensome to them than to middle- or upper-income individuals.
A suspect in a criminal investigation could face an uphill battle with the weight of the government’s resources bearing down. However, a criminal defense lawyer can help protect a defendant’s rights and push for a fair outcome.