Treating petty, nonviolent misdemeanors as infractions rather than crimes would save millions of dollars and better protect defendants' rights without hurting public safety, according to a study commissioned by criminal defense attorneys.
That is the top recommendation in "Minor Crimes, Massive Waste: The Terrible Toll of America's Misdemeanor Courts," a report released Tuesday by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Researchers with the Defender Initiative at the Seattle University School of Law reviewed statistics and visited misdemeanor courts in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington state.
They reported that cases per public defender ranged from 360 a year in Benton County, Wash., and 380 in Seattle, both set limits, to 2,403 in Chicago, 2,502 in Utah and 18,720 in New Orleans.
The National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice recommends a maximum of 400 cases a year per defender.
John Wesley Hall Jr., a lawyer from Little Rock, Ark., and president of the association, said he looked forward to presenting the findings to the House Judiciary Committee in a congressional hearing June 4.