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Misdemeanor convictions could result in long-term consequences

Most criminal defendants in Maryland will face misdemeanor charges. Although convictions on misdemeanors will not result in penalties as harsh as those for felony convictions, the long-term results could limit people's chances for employment as well as access to student loans or government benefits.

A legal scholar and former federal prosecutor has estimated that misdemeanor cases arise from about 80 percent of arrests. This translates into misdemeanor cases filling the vast majority of court dockets. The heavy caseload overwhelms public defenders, whose limited resources prevent them from investigating cases and constructing effective defense strategies. As a result, plea deals resolve most misdemeanor cases. The scholar argued that this broad inability to defend people accused of low-level crimes effectively forces innocent people to accept plea deals.

The court fees associated with the processing of misdemeanor cases and convictions place high costs on many people. Their inability to pay bail might leave them waiting in jail for a court date while they lose their jobs. Failure to pay other fees and fines might send them back to jail as well.

A person facing misdemeanor charges might want unbiased information before making statements in court. The representation of a criminal defense attorney could provide the person with honest opinions about the strength of the evidence and the likelihood of conviction. Such a case evaluation could allow a person to understand the stakes before entering a plea. If a prosecutor offers a plea deal, an attorney could strive to negotiate a deal with better terms and a lenient sentence. In some situations, an attorney might challenge weak evidence or identify mistakes made by law enforcement. These issues could give an attorney an opportunity to seek a dismissal.

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