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Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor [Kindle Edition]

Angela J. Davis
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

What happens when public prosecutors, the most powerful officials in the criminal justice system, seek convictions instead of justice? Why are cases involving well-to-do victims often prosecuted more vigorously than those involving poor victims? Why do wealthy defendants frequently enjoy more lenient plea bargains than the disadvantaged? In this eye-opening work, Angela J. Davis shines a much-needed light on the power of American prosecutors, revealing how the day-to-day practice of even the most well-intentioned prosecutors can result in unequal treatment of defendants and victims. Ranging from mandatory minimum sentencing laws that enhance prosecutorial control over the outcome of cases, to the increasing politicization of the office, Davis uses powerful stories of individuals caught in the system to demonstrate how the perfectly legal exercise of prosecutorial discretion can result in gross inequities in criminal justice. For the paperback edition, Davis provides a new Afterword which covers such recent incidents of prosecutorial abuse as the Jena Six case, the Duke lacrosse case, the Department of Justice firings, and more.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Davis, an experienced public defender, provides an excellent critique of prosecutorial power in the American criminal justice system. Davis' analysis is quite balanced, respecting both historical precedents and the value of the power of discretion. She argues that the prosecutor's duty is more than one side of an adversarial process; the duty is to justice. Yet, as reflected in this work, Davis shows how "ordinary" prosecutorial discretion often leads to injustice. Injustice too often comes from practices hidden from the public that, even when revealed, are accepted as articles of faith. Most abuses are tied to practices of both federal and state prosecutors, reflected in their application of the death penalty, basic charging, victim's issues, and plea bargaining. Davis also examines intentional prosecutorial misconduct and how the courts, including the Supreme Court, have created a context that appears to facilitate abuse and nonaccountability. Davis makes a sound argument that fundamental reforms are necessary to again make prosecutors as accountable as any others granted a public trust with power and responsibility on which we all depend. Ford, Vernon


"This book is not simply timely. It is timeless. It chronicles the expansion of prosecutorial powers and, better yet, offers a compelling set of reforms that all can agree will help to curb unnecessary abuses of power. Public officials, law enforcement, and everyday citizens will all find this book informative and accessible. It is a must read, and a phenomenal read."--Charles J. Ogletree Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor, Harvard Law School

"Finally, a book by a scholar that not only describes what's really going on in the trenches--a dangerous shift in power from judges to prosecutors in sentencing and charging decisions--but provides a sensible agenda of reforms that will protect victims and defendants alike. This is a very important work."--Barry Scheck, Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and Co-Director, Innocence Project

"In Arbitrary Justice, Professor Davis reveals how the primary mechanism of accountability in our democracy--elections--has failed to hold prosecutors accountable to the people they serve. She offers practical progressive ideas for reform that will improve our democracy and help to eliminate the unacceptable class and race disparities in our criminal justice system."--Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)

"Angela Davis sheds searing light on the long-veiled power wielded by American prosecutors and shows that a fair criminal justice system is an illusion unless we demand transparency and equality from this oft-overlooked arena."--David Cole, author of No Equal Justice

"With this book, Professor Davis throws down a gauntlet to prosecutors; some district attorneys will roar in opposition to her proposals while others, deeply concerned with equal justice, will take to heart her trenchant observations on racial issues in the prosecutor's office and will carefully consider her proposals for needed reforms."--E. Michael McCann, former Milwaukee County District Attorney

"Using powerful examples, Angela Davis discusses the often misunderstood scope of prosecutorial discretion, and her book should make an excellent supplemental text in a judicial and court related course."--The Law and Politics Book Review

Product Details

  • File Size: 2131 KB
  • Print Length: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (April 12, 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0015B7W54
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,941 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Read it, but be prepared to feel depressed afterward if you've been living in a bubble of denial or unthinking judgment.

Prosecutors present evidence, often some of it false, to Grand Juries in secret without the accused knowing about it and unable to defend him or herself, so they pretty much Always get a vote to prosecute. If the defendant is convicted, when they discover any false evidence that was responsible for the decision to prosecute they cannot legally do anything about it because the law won't allow them to as convicted criminals! They are just trapped, knowing they were prosecuted in the first place because of bogus evidence and that presenting it was illegal, but the laws have been designed to protect prosecutors at the expense of the accused, even those who are innocent of the crime for which they are accused; even when the prosecution committed an illegal act.

Judges increasingly abdicate their responsibilities and defer to prosecutors, even in allowing prosecutors to decide what evidence is or isn't relevant to the defense when there is evidence they do not want to turn over! The prosecution deciding for the defense what evidence is relevant?! Judges taking their word for it and ruling in their favor that they do not have to turn over everything requested by the defense?! People! Wake up!

Prosecutors have almost blank checks to go after citizens, while most Americans cannot even begin to defend themselves because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars a big trial costs. Even to fight a bogus DUI charge costs about $30,000.00! Increasingly, there are innocent people in our jails and prisons merely because they don't have the money to fight for their lives so they make deals to do less time.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book July 19, 2008
Dr. Davis has done more than most in demonstrating the problematic nature of our political system. Here she does it again and reminds us why prison/criminal justice reform is an issues whose time has come.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whining prosecutors September 24, 2008
Haha. Wow, look at those other reviews that attatcked the book. They were both by prosecutors. Geez. Just because The book is about prosecutor misconduct(something that obviously does happen from time to time)that doesn't mean that you have to be a child and take the whole book as a personal attatck against you because you happen to be in the same profession. I don't care if you've never seen such cases in the criminal justice system, abuse of power by prosecutors does happen, I'm not saying all the frikin time, but yes just like every other field in life, there are a few bad apples. Don't be a baby.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons learned April 18, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have a family member who is caught up in the system. This book was a great reference for him, he used it to reinforce his statements written in the briefs he prepared in his fight for justice.
I had just completed a month long stay with Grand jury and this book made everything make sense to me. I saw what Ms. Davis speaks about in her book up close and very personal.
I am grateful for the lessons learned, I am grateful that she wrote the book, I am sharing it with others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine book, but some nitpicks August 26, 2013
Fine book about a necessary topic (which the other reviewers have covered).
So let me nitpick about her coverage of the Duke lacrosse case.

She seems to suggest that

1 ) Media coverage of the falsely-accused was favorable.
Actually, there was a deluge of negative publicity. (The players were called 'sub-human';
every TV talking head denounced them regularly; and Newsweek placed their booking
mug shots on its cover. The Times conducted a regular campaign against them.). And all of this happened after DNA testing had proven everyone was innocent. There was a rampage of tabloid-style coverage, the effects of which are still felt today.

2 ) The players got off more easily than would have been the case had they been black.
In reality, perhaps the only reason the charges were permitted to stick and the prosecution
was allowed to continue for a year (despite DNA evidence, pictures, phone records,
time card records, video, photos, etc. proving their innocence) was because they were
white and accused of assaulting someone who was depicted (the media slant again) as
a poor working woman of color.(Victoria Price got the same laudable press in the Scottsboro
case--because the media reflected the narrative the people wanted to read, not the facts.)The false case was built around the narrative of white oppression of poor women of color.

3) The players got off more easily than would have been the case had they been poor.
But see above. There was no mileage for Nifong in prosecuting poor persons; to portray
himself as the champion of poor working people of color against their rich white oppressors,
he needed wealthy students.
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