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The Champion

March 2019 , Page 53 

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Informal Opinion: The Empirical Case for Defense Counsel for All, Starting at First Appearance: Lessons from the Misdemeanor Justice Project

By Cecilia Low-Weiner, Jenny Roberts, and Thomas Harvey

In criminal cases, the attention and allocation of resources is focused on felonies. This is understandable, as more serious charges may have a greater impact on individuals, communities, and public safety. However, misdemeanors make up the bulk of judicial dockets and represent an often revolving door of individuals filtering in and out of the criminal justice system. Despite this, practitioners, academics, and data collectors have largely overlooked misdemeanors. This blind spot to misdemeanors presents a threat to defendants’ rights, procedural fairness, and the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.

In 2013, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation funded the Misdemeanor Justice Project (MJP)1 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. MJP aims to provide practitioners and policymakers with empirical evidence to inform the rapidly evolving conversations around the criminal justice system’s response to lower-level offenses. To bring increased attention to this area, the MJP began produ

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