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Case of a Lifetime: A Criminal Defense Lawyer's Story Reprint Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0230614338
ISBN-10: 0230614337
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Editorial Reviews


“The book's strength is Smith's openness about her life as a criminal defense attorney and her sophisticated thinking about the moral and ethical dilemmas criminal lawyers routinely navigate, such as how to represent the guilty, how far to go to ensure their clients' freedom and the ultimate question, what is their responsibility to the truth? Aspiring lawyers and anyone interested in the criminal justice system will benefit from reading Smith's account.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A captivating, emotionally intense investigation of the complicated relationship between truth and the justice system.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“This is an extraordinary, profoundly moving book. Abbe Smith tells the story of Patsy Kelly Jarrett, who spent 28 years in prison for a crime she did not commit--and tells her own story. She was Kelly's volunteer lawyer, and over those years she became Kelly's desperate friend. I know of no other book that says as much about a defense lawyer's motivations, self-doubt, frustrations. I finished it with tears in my eyes.” ―Anthony Lewis, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Freedom for the Thought that We Hate: a Biography of the First Amendment

“This is a substantial work: intelligent, subtle, and honest. I couldn't put the book down. Abbe Smith examines a range of complex issues with insight and wit - the challenge innocence poses in a system focused on processing the guilty, the complicated relationship between truth and proof, the impossibility and importance of hope for long-time prisoners, the struggle for meaning for anyone who ventures into the criminal justice system. The way the author turns her skepticism on herself, without mercy, is especially engaging and impressive. In the end, the book transcends lawyers and clients, guilt and innocence, crime and punishment. It is a testament to what can happen when one person reaches out to another in need.” ―Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

“A wonderful writer … Clear transparent style in telling of things [that are] so complicated and deep. Unaffected, unpretentious to an amazing degree. A real feminist book--as well as a defender story.” ―Barbara Babcock, Judge John Crown Professor of Law, Emerita, Stanford University Law School

“Less a story of law than of two extraordinary people. Kelly Jarrett had barely left adolescence when she found herself spending the rest of her youth and much of her adult life behind bars. And yet she managed to preserve her sense of self. Smith was the attorney who, even as she pursued a glittering career that included teaching at Harvard Law, still had to help free Jarrett.... A moving and important book. We're bombarded with TV dramas about cops and crime and the pursuit of justice. "Case of a Lifetime" offers a disconcerting look at the realities that determine why some people walk free and others spend their lives in prison.” ―Boston Globe

“A stunningly honest book. In this compelling story of her 25-year fight on behalf of an innocent woman imprisoned for murder, Abbe Smith candidly and dramatically portrays the frustrations and triumphs, ugliness and nobility of criminal defense. You will never read a truer, more informative, or more moving account of what we call criminal justice.” ―Monroe H. Freedman, Professor of Law (former Lichtenstein Distinguished Professor of Legal Ethics), Hofstra University School of Law.

“As they say on dust jackets, 'I couldn't put it down.' It is a heartwarming story and also an outrageous one.” ―Robert Condlin, Professor of Law, University of Maryland

About the Author

Abbe Smith, director of the Criminal Justice Clinic and professor of law at Georgetown Law School, is the recognized expert on legal ethics. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Daily News, National Law Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly. She lives in Washington, D.C.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230614337
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230614338
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Abbe Smith is Director of the Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic, Co-Director of the E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship Program, and Professor of Law at Georgetown University. Prior to coming to Georgetown, Professor Smith was Deputy Director of the Criminal Justice Institute, Clinical Instructor, and Lecturer at Law at Harvard Law School. She has also taught at the City University New York School of Law, Temple University School of Law, American University Washington College of Law, and the University of Melbourne Law School (Australia), where she was a Senior Fulbright Scholar. Professor Smith teaches and writes on criminal defense, juvenile justice, legal ethics, and clinical legal education. In addition to numerous law journal articles, she is the author of CASE OF A LIFETIME: A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER'S STORY (Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), co-editor with Monroe Freedman of HOW CAN YOU REPRESENT THOSE PEOPLE? (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), and co author with Monroe Freedman of UNDERSTANDING LAWYERS' ETHICS (4th ed., Lexis-Nexis, 2010). Professor Smith began her legal career at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, where she was an Assistant Defender, member of the Special Defense Unit, and Senior Trial Attorney from 1982 to 1990. She continues to be actively engaged in indigent defense as both a clinical supervisor and member of the Criminal Justice Act panel for the DC Superior Court, and frequently presents at public defender and legal aid training programs in the United States and abroad. Professor Smith is a member of the Board of Directors of The Bronx Defenders and the National Juvenile Defender Center, and a longtime member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Lawyers Guild. Court. In 2010, she was elected to the American Board of Criminal Lawyers. Professor Smith is also a published cartoonist. A collection of her cartoons, CARRIED AWAY: THE CHRONICLES OF A FEMINIST CARTOONIST, was published by Sanguinaria Publishing in 1984.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Case of a Lifetime: A Criminal Defense Lawyer's Story, by Abbe Smith. As a tax attorney for the past ten years, I was surprised by how much I could identify with the book's description of issues that criminal defense lawyers typically face. Like criminal defense lawyers, I fight the government, but in the form of the IRS and state tax departments. Although my clients don't face prison sentences, they do face large tax bills and penalties. I am often in the position of having to urge clients to agree to financial settlements rather than go to court, even when they have a good case. The system can be troubling, personally. One of this book's lessons is that perserverance pays.

Abbe Smith's book also opened my eyes to the possibility that there are many people in America who are wrongly imprisoned but do not have a chance of being exonerated through DNA evidence. This book has inspired me to get involved in such a case in my state, on a pro bono basis. At a time when I am looking for something to inspire more passion in my professional life, I feel called to an area of the law that I never considered before. What could be more meaningful and fulfilling than fighting for an innocent person?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an incredible book which shows the real problems with the criminal justice system. The reviewer who criticizes Ms. Smith for believing in her client's innocence has clearly missed the point. Most criminal defense attorneys would find it much easier to defend a guilty client, and in fact some of the most skeptical people I have ever met are public defenders. The most important thing about this book is that Ms. Smith constantly reexamines her point of view and potential emotional conflicts, and is incredibly honest with the reader.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If a potential reader believes that only guilty people are in jail and that our court system is fair, they should read this book. It does a good narrative job of laying that myth to rest. Would give it more stars on that point.

As a piece of narrative, I found it less satisfying, once we got past the actual facts of the injustice. I believed that this child, then woman, then old woman, was an innocent who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong associates. I learned entirely too much about Ms. Smith's feeling of guilt, although I did think that it was a good thing that she hung in all those years in a quest for relief for an innocent person.

As a narrative, the book would have worked at about half the length.

Would have liked the author to explicate how subtle, and not so subtle, prejudices operate in the criminal justice system, and to expand Kelly's plight to all the folks in our society who are viewed as "other" by our system. In Kelly's case, the prejudices included that she was poor and that she was gay and that she was tried alongside an already convicted associate. An upper middle class woman, with family sitting behind her, and expensive representation, would likely have been treated very differently.

On the legal points, I would have liked to learn more about whether there was a legal way to sever her from Billy, or to appeal that her case was not severed. I thought it unfair to offer diffuse criticism of Kelly's original attorney, particularly with respect to Kelly's gayness. He appears to have believed that volunteering it would have hurt her, but it apparently was nevertheless introduced. The recounting was unclear on whether Kelly was truthful on this issue.
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Format: Hardcover
Around the age of 12 I remember sitting on the curb with Patsy in front of her house in Wheaton, MD one afternoon and the next day she was gone and I was haunted for many years of wondering how she was. I did find out latter that her father left her Mother & took her and Eddie to North Carolina, but never really learned the details. I just missed my friend. When I saw the article of the story of Patsy Kelly and a current picture of her I did not recognize it was my old friend until I saw the picture of her when she was young. I was in absolute shock and horror for what happened to her. She was tomboy and wasn't interested in playing dolls with me, but never showed any indication of being gay. She didn't have a mean or aggressive bone in her body and was one of the nicest friends I ever had. I wish I knew of the charges so I could have been there as a character witness. We both grew up very sheltered and naïve and I understand exactly how she felt about honesty, and I would have pleaded the same. We were raised not to lie. My Mother always said "you are judged by the company you keep" and that is so true and sad that she was judged for that evil friendship and I am sure she had no idea he was capable of those crimes. I am so glad Abbe saw through to the truth and did what she could through the years. I bought and read the book to be sure it was my old friend and except for the part left out of moving from MD to NC all the names of her parents and brother were right, but I already knew in my heart it was her. I hope she is enjoying life and will live the rest of her life in peace and happiness. She deserves that. Patricia Stein
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