Disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana, and trespassing. Crimes of the century, they are not. Yet their impact on those who commit them—including everything from employment barriers to the social stigma of a criminal record—may well last that long. Even a victimless misdemeanor can derail the life of a transgressor.

But it doesn’t have to. And we know this because we’ve already devised a way of addressing offenses that eschews excessive criminalization and mass incarceration: the U.S. traffic code.

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