In a misdemeanor courtroom on Chicago's West Side each day, a steady stream of mostly African-American defendants approaches the bench accused of crimes like drug possession, trespassing, battery and other low-level offenses, says the Chicago Reporter. Critics say the parade of defendants is a result of a wink-and-nod agreement between police and prosecutors that goes like this: Police make petty arrests to get people off the streets in an attempt to deter more violent crimes, and prosecutors or city attorneys run with the charges with few questions asked. It's an exercise of justice that's more show than substance: Defendants spend days, weeks or even months in the system where odds are their cases will ultimately be dismissed.
Eight out of 10 misdemeanor cases have been dismissed between 2006 and 2012, shows a Chicago Reporter analysis of records for 1.4 million cases. Cook County's dismissal rate is among the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Candace McCoy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that's likely the result of a policing strategy she describes as “rounding up of the usual suspects.” “Police can round people up that they see as disorderly,” said McCoy, an expert on pretrial processes. “Are these people guilty of anything? We don't know, do we?”