Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Collapse Of American Criminal Justice By William J. Stuntz

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice

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Product Description

The rule of law has vanished in America's criminal justice system. Prosecutors now decide whom to punish and how severely. Almost no one accused of a crime will ever face a jury. Inconsistent policing, rampant plea bargaining, overcrowded courtrooms, and ever more draconian sentencing have produced a gigantic prison population, with black citizens the primary defendants and victims of crime. In this passionately argued book, the leading criminal law scholar of his generation looks to history for the roots of these problems--and for their solutions. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice takes us deep into the dramatic history of American crime--bar fights in nineteenth-century Chicago, New Orleans bordellos, Prohibition, and decades of murderous lynching. Digging into these crimes and the strategies that attempted to control them, Stuntz reveals the costs of abandoning local democratic control. The system has become more centralized, with state legislators and federal judges given increasing power. The liberal Warren Supreme Court's emphasis on procedures, not equity, joined hands with conservative insistence on severe punishment to create a system that is both harsh and ineffective. What would get us out of this Kafkaesque world? More trials with local juries; laws that accurately define what prosecutors seek to punish; and an equal protection guarantee like the one that died in the 1870s, to make prosecution and punishment less discriminatory. Above all, Stuntz eloquently argues, Americans need to remember again that criminal punishment is a necessary but terrible tool, to use effectively, and sparingly.

Product Details
  • Published on: 2012-02-14
  • Binding: Digital
  • 390 pages
Editorial Reviews

The capstone to the career of one of the most influential legal scholars of the past generation.
--Lincoln Caplan, New York Times

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice is a searching--and profoundly disturbing--examination of American criminal law in action. William Stuntz's posthumous study establishes that our main achievement has been the incarceration of millions, and in the process we have given short shrift to the minimal objectives of a democratic legal order--fairness and equality. This is a masterful work.
--Louis H. Pollak, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Bill Stuntz brought humanity, passion, and a broad intellectual vision to the study of criminal justice. His book tells the compelling story of the injustices created by the rise of discretionary power, the resurgence of discrimination and the impoverishment of local democracy. His analysis has implications beyond the shores of the USA; and helps us to see where a more hopeful future might lie.
--Nicola Lacey, All Souls College, Oxford

Bill Stuntz was our leading scholar of criminal procedure. Stuntz argues that much of what we think about American criminal justice is wrong. The system is neither too lenient nor too punitive, but too prone to both extremes, and the extremism is caused by too little democracy. Sweeping, learned, and bracingly original, Stuntz's crowning achievement is a wonderful book.
--David Alan Sklansky, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley

This is a brilliant book by a supremely decent man. A great scholarly mind from the world of small towns, Stuntz has unique and profound insights into the perverse effects of centralized control of the criminal process of modern America. His vision of a better, more humane, more local justice offers more hope than the work of any scholar I know.
--James Q. Whitman, Yale Law School

Smart and surprisingly provocative, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice is an instant classic. Stuntz sets aside the conventional wisdom and offers fresh and paradigm shifting analysis of crime, punishment, and politics. Every prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and law maker in the country should take Stuntz's powerful insights to heart. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice is indeed the achievement of a lifetime.
--Paul Butler, author of Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice [is] a blistering critique of the "arbitrary, discriminatory, and punitive beast" that our nation's criminal justice system has become...Stuntz, who passed away earlier this year, was the Henry J. Friendly professor of law at Harvard University and one of the nation's leading scholars of criminal law and procedure. His work was well-known for uncovering counterintuitive paradoxes at the heart of the American justice system, and Collapse is filled with them...Its diagnosis of our criminal justice system demands attention. Even more so its suggested remedies....Stuntz himself recognized that his suggestions would prove a hard sell in today's political climate. He prudently opted for hope rather than optimism. But politicians, and the voters that elect them, would be wise to consider Stuntz's account seriously, because what to do about our deeply flawed criminal justice system--well, that is a puzzle worth trying to solve.
--Jay Wexler (Boston Globe )

About the Author
William J. Stuntz was Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard University.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful.
5Spectacular, paradigm-changing book
By Tung Yin
The legal academy lost a giant earlier this year when William Stuntz passed away from an aggressive cancer. Stuntz was an amazing scholar who had the gift of explaining how legal doctrine in the area of criminal procedure frequently failed to measure up to the real world. "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice" is his defining masterpiece that marshals statistics, history, and logic to argue that our current criminal justice system is badly broken. He points to the facts that (1) we incarcerate more people per capita by far than our peer nations (550+ per 100,000, versus the 50-150 range), and in fact, we eclipse even Russia; (2) we incarcerate so many African-American men that in some cities, 1/3 or more of young African-American men are in prison, probation, or supervised release; (3) most criminal defendants plead guilty.

The reasons for this breakdown are complicated, but Stuntz attributes it to a number of key factors. First, he points to the increasing centralization of criminal justice. It used to be that the judges, prosecutors, and juries in criminal cases came directly from the neighborhood that the criminal defendant did. This meant that there were local pressures to temper justice with mercy, since the defendant being sent away for incarceration was part of the community too. With the growth in suburban population, however, coupled with having larger districts -- meaning that the jury pool came from a wider swath of the population -- this local control was lost. Worse yet, the voting strength of the suburbs meant that the increasing bulk of voters were voting to reduce crime, even though they (suburbanites) were hardly the target of crime. The inner cities were.

Second, Stuntz faults the Supreme Court during the reign of Chief Justice Earl Warren for its reliance on procedural protections that simply raised the cost of trials, without making them more accurate. Prosecutors have been able to evade these protections by inducing defendants to plead guilty, such inducements made more enticing because the substantive criminal law -- the part of the law governing what is a crime -- was left alone by the Court, and roamed free and wild. With broader laws available, prosecutors are able to ensnare more and more people, and pleading guilty becomes preferable to risking a long and protracted trial.

Stuntz's solution is to return to local juries, local judges, local prosecutors, and to allow juries to play a more important role in the criminal justice system. (Right now, they are only responsible for finding the facts.) He is of course cognizant of the sordid past of the Jim Crow era in the South, when all-white juries frequently engaged in jury nullification in favor of white defendants accused of killing African-Americans. This, he contends, is less of a problem today than the problem of discriminatory charging. Thus, Stuntz suggests that prosecutors be required to demonstrate that they are prosecuting people of different races for the same kinds of crimes, a proposal that would prevent prosecutors from harassing disfavored minorities.

This is a spectacular, paradigm-shifting book. The arguments that he makes are daunting, and the solutions would be challenging to implement. He might not fully persuade as to his diagnosis or his prescription, but this book is guaranteed to make you think about the criminal justice system in a new way.


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