Although the term “misdemeanor” applies to minor offenses, these charges play a considerable role in the U.S. criminal justice system. According to one expert, misdemeanor allegations and the sentences that often come with them only worsen the inequalities in American society.

In a book exploring criminal justice, Alexandria Natapoff, a one-time public defender, highlights how the long-term consequences of misdemeanor charges have harsher impacts on people who already face hardships. For instance, poorer people who can’t afford attorneys still end up paying public defender fees. They also face the risk of being jailed when they can’t pay their fines or having to wait behind bars for prolonged periods to see judges.

Court systems may also charge accused individuals fees for everything from DNA testing to supervision. What’s more, groups like African Americans are more likely to get plea deals that carry harsh punishments while white defendants have a higher chance of getting severe charges dropped. Even though misdemeanor crimes are only punishable by up to a year’s worth of incarceration, they make up 80 percent of the cases in American justice systems, and according to Natapoff, they’re a massive source of revenue for local court systems.

Being convicted of a misdemeanor might have a number of adverse consequences. For instance, someone seeking a student loan, welfare benefits or employment might find it impossible to qualify after being found guilty. In addition, the fees they’re charged while they’re going through the justice system could result in them taking on permanent debt that makes life much harder.

Talking to a criminal defense attorney may be a wise move. Experienced legal advisers might help accused individuals fight back against an unequal justice system by building stronger, evidence-based arguments. They may also pursue the reduction of charges to lessen the severity of sentences.