From Volume 85, Number 5 (July 2012)
Every generation it seems, a criminal law scholar arises like an Old Testament prophet and attempts to compel their colleagues to confront the uncomfortable fact that the kind of criminal justice the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens experience involves misdemeanor crimes, adjudicated (if you can call it that) at the lowest level of courts, with little or no lawyering, few rules, and lots of scope for nasty prejudice. For this generation, Alexandra Natapoff is that Jeremiah. For her, it is bad enough, of course, that most felony justice has only a family resemblance to the picture acquired from most criminal law classes, but misdemeanors, if they show up at all, do so in the margins of the course, around issues like status offenses, voluntariness, or possession. When we take Natapoff’s challenge and treat the world as if these misdemeanors mattered, we experience something like what the filmmakers of the Matrix series so effectively captured: the slide from a sleek but apparently totally fake world, to one that is actually pretty disgusting and degrading.