Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court

By in Courts on January 31, 2013

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“A groundbreaking book . . . revealing the systemic, everyday problems in our courts that must be addressed if justice is truly to be served.”—Doris Kearns Goodwin

Attorney and journalist Amy Bach spent eight years investigating the widespread courtroom failures that each day upend lives across America. What she found was an assembly-line approach to justice: a system that rewards mediocre advocacy, bypasses due process, and shortchanges both defendants and victims to keep the court calendar moving.

Here is the public defender who pleads most of his clients guilty with scant knowledge about their circumstances; the judge who sets outrageous bail for negligible crimes; the prosecutor who habitually declines to pursue significant cases; the court that works together to achieve a wrongful conviction. Going beyond the usual explanations of bad apples and meager funding, Ordinary Injustice reveals a clubby legal culture of compromise, and shows the tragic consequences that result when communities mistake the rules that lawyers play by for the rule of law. It is time, Bach argues, to institute a new method of checks and balances that will make injustice visible—the first and necessary step to reform.

3 thoughts on “Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court

  1. 1
    12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Empathy/Justice Fatigue, October 24, 2009
    By 
    John Neff
    (REAL NAME)
      

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

    Amy Bach has written about how people in the criminal justice system can suffer from empathy/justice fatigue a form of neural adaptation where they become desensitized to injustice. She gives four rather extreme examples of this process.

    An unjust outcome can be the result of wrongful arrest, charge, conviction, sentencing, incarceration and revocation of parole/probation. The most frequent unjust outcome would be a wrongful arrest on a simple misdemeanor where the person arrested quickly discovers that their least costly option is to plead guilty, pay the fine and move on. Complaints about the police are investigated by the police and in the vast majority of the cases the officer is upheld. Anyone who pleads not guilty to a simple misdemeanor risks annoying the judge, prosecutor and public defender who all think their time is being wasted.

    Charging errors are fairly common and they should be detected and corrected as early in the process as possible. The only real supervision of plea-bargaining is by the judge and if the judge has a large case load supervision is probably cursory. Sentencing is very complex process and it is easy to make a sentencing error (in some states the Department of Correction will discover sentencing errors and send the prisoner back to court for re-sentencing). One possible reason for a wrongful incarceration is because of a faulty/waived pre-sentence investigation.

    The system is a confederation of independent governmental and non-governmental agencies with a common set of clients. There is no oversight and no effective constituency and no single entity has the authority to fix stuff that is broken. I hope Amy Bach has made it harder for people to claim “The system does not need to be fixed because it is not broken.”

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  2. Evan E. Seevak
    2
    9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Wow., September 7, 2009
    By 
    Evan E. Seevak
    (REAL NAME)
      

    Ms Bach’s book is brilliantly written and researched and is accessible to non-lawyers, like me. Within the first few pages I had a dramatically new perspective on our legal system. I knew there were immense inequities in our legal safety net, but did not realize the degree. Well done.

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  3. Robert Ruffner
    3
    6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    This Book could have been written about Maine, October 21, 2009
    By 
    Robert Ruffner (Portland, Maine USA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    What a comprehensive and eye opening look at the problems with the American justice system that fly below the radar. I hope that every judge reads this!

    ” “Ordinary injustice results when a community of legal professionals becomes so accustomed to a pattern of lapses that they can no longer see their role in them.”

    It’s the book I would have written about Maine … if I could write at all.”

    - Robert J. Ruffner
    Director
    Maine Indigent Defense Center
    [...]

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