Sudnow Normal Crimes

Sudnow, David. 1965. “Normal Crimes: Sociological Features of the Penal Code in a Public Defender Office.” Social Problems 12, 3. Pp. 255-275.

The Routinization of Society's Reaction

  1. What to remember?
    1. Deviance "processing" is done by organizations and outcomes are subject to ordinary organizational processes.
    2. Crime and other forms of deviance are subject to our tendency to define things in terms of the normal and the deviant.
  2. Normal Crimes
    1. Background
      1. Motivation for article: using conviction categories for studies of criminal incidence is really studying the outcome of a labeling system, not the "actual" criminal acts. His question: "What of import for the sociological analysis of legal administration can be learned by describing the actual way the penal code is employed in the daily activity of legal representation?"
      2. We recognize a range of "kinds" of infractions, even within one category
        1. Sometimes it's official as in kinds of killings
      3. Competing goals within organizations
        1. Minimize processing time
        2. Convict "gets his due," proper "message sent," etc.
        3. Don't overwhelm prison system
    2. Definition: NORMAL CRIME = "those occurrences whose typical features, e.g., the ways they usually occur and the characteristics of persons who commit them (as well as typical victims and typical scenes), are known and attended to by the public defender."
      1. Some characteristics of normal crimes
        1. Focus is on offense types not particular individuals
        2. Features of offender and offense not important for determining statutory classification (though they are important for the plea bargain)
        3. Features of offenders and offenses are historically situated, local and current context count.
        4. Offenses are routinely encountered.
        5. Ecological specificity — normal crimes have normal places
        6. Part of "system's" competence is awareness of properties of local offenders and offenses
      2. b. Apply the whole thing to honor code committees or student affairs offices or condo associations
  3. 3. Conclusions
      1. a. Crime counts as result of social process
      2. b. For constructing etiological (causal) accounts of crime, we can't necessarily use the formal legal definition of crime
      3. c. "For in their actual use, the categories of crime, as we have reiterated continuously above, are, at least for this legal establishment, the shorthand reference terms for that knowledge of the social structure and its criminal events upon which the task of practically organizing the work of "representation is premised. That knowledge includes, embodied within what burglary, petty theft, narcotics violations, child molestation, and the rest actually stand for, knowledge of the modes of criminal activity, ecological characteristics of the community, patterns of daily slum life, psychological and social biographies of offenders, criminal histories and futures; in sum, practically tested criminological wisdom."