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Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse Hardcover – March 22, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Chicago-based journalist Bogira's first book is an outstanding journey inside the American criminal justice system that nicely complements last year's Blue Blood, Edward Conlon's inside look at the life of a big-city cop. Like that instant classic, this book—centered on the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, "the biggest and busiest felony courthouse in the nation"—punctures the popular myths engendered by TV shows like Law and Order to provide a balanced view of the realities of the day-to-day, assembly-line grind that marks so much of the process from arrest to final disposition. The author's ability to gain the trust of so many different participants in the grim drama—judges, public defenders, prosecutors, court officers, prison guards and many defendants—is remarkable, and he often comes close to presenting a more complete picture of the truth of a particular crime than emerge in court in the or in the few cases that actually go to trial. Despite this access, Bogira does not gild the people he describes; even Judge Daniel Locallo, the book's central figure—whose courtroom witnesses racial violence, pathetic thievery, the abused and the mentally incompetent, and who, on balance emerges positively—is portrayed warts and all. The brilliance of Bogira's insights will lead many to hope that he will follow this debut with proposals to cure the many ills he has diagnosed.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-The grim reality of the urban criminal justice process hits readers with a wallop as they are welcomed as prisoners to Chicago's Cook County Criminal Courthouse, the biggest and busiest felony courthouse in the U.S. From the harsh and dehumanizing treatment of prisoners, they move to Courtroom 302, presided over by Judge Dan Locallo. Through the perspectives of the defendants and their families, the prosecutor and the defense attorney, guards, deputies, juries, and court personnel, Bogira provides an engrossing look at the human drama of the cases, including the racially motivated beating of a 13-year-old black boy by the white teenage son of a family believed to be Mafia-connected. The horrific injustice of the flawed system cries out from almost every page, even as honorable and intelligent, yet all too human court officers work diligently within it. The author provides the historical background and rationale for the plea bargaining, the unintended consequences of "drug courts" resulting in more arrests for criminals holding small amounts of drugs, and the pressures, political and administrative, that judges standing for retention election face. He reveals how these factors actually impact the accused, the victims, and their families. This is a riveting wake-up call for students who mistake the slick justice of television courtroom dramas for reality.-Jane S. Drabkin, Chinn Park Regional Library, Woodbridge, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (March 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679432523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679432524
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Steve S. on April 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was only slightly aware of the courthouse on 26th St. in Chicago from the occasional anecdotes of people called for jury duty there, but now the place has been seared into my consciousness. I'm rooting for this book to become, at least, a regional hit in the Chicago area, but its insights into the flaws of our judicial system earn it a spot on nightstands throughout the U.S.

What a great choice this would be for book clubs. There's so much to discuss: the problems crying out for reform (drug laws, grand juries, racism, retention system, etc.), as well as the stories Bogira tells about the individuals who pass through the system, a few in the glare of intense media scrutiny, most barely noticed even by the system itself. Then there's the Bridgeport case, a hate crime that rocked Chicago and for a time drew the watchful eye of the world. (There are some stunners to this story in the last chapters.)

Ironically, Bogira, the detached journalist, seems to do a better job of getting to the bottom of these cases than the teams of dozens of police detectives, lawyers and judges--probably because he had the luxury of focusing on a few individuals, while the overcrowded conveyer belt of 26th Street strains to keep the crowds moving. He triumphs in humanizing the whole lot, from the penny-ante defendants (mostly addicts) to the savage murderers. His portrait of the presiding judge has the complexity of accomplished fiction. Bogira seems to be everywhere in the courtroom at once: sitting with the defendants and the lawyers, schmoozing with the courtroom deputies who've seen it all, talking with the judge in his chambers and sitting with the accused's mother in the back. The author has a satisfying knack for suggesting what really happened in each case after narrating the court's conclusions, and the contrast between the two is fascinating.
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41 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Gerald Brennan VINE VOICE on April 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Thanks to Court T.V. and T.V. dramas, most Americans think of courtrooms as spacious, well-lit venues where prosecutors and defense attorneys vie for the attention of a thoughtful, attentive jury. But most lawyers aren't Johnnie Cochrans, many jurors are eager to get back to their regular lives, and the vast majority of cases never even go to trial. "Courtroom 302" looks beyond the made-for-T.V. ideal at one of the dingy, cramped, hectic rooms where justice is often imperfectly meted out.

In writing this book, Steve Bogira spent the bulk of 1998 covering this courtroom and its dramatis personae: a firm-but-fair judge, two somewhat jaded deputies, a large ensemble cast of overworked public defenders and diligent prosecutors, and a rotating cast of defendants and jurors. He does an admirable job of reporting on them, of getting them to let their guard down and discuss their thoughts, feelings and motivations honestly and openly. The result is a well-rounded and compelling book that shows the true face of American justice at the turn of the Millennium.

Bogira emphasizes the sheer volume of crime and punishment in the court he covers. Cook County boasts the nation's largest integrated court system, and the number of defendants who pass through the system is staggering: 78,000 defendants per year. (On average, every courtroom handles three per day!) And throughout the book's descriptions of dramatic and memorable trials--a prison shanking, a cabbie shot by someone who might have been a jilted lover, a coke deal gone bad, a vicious race beating--the steady drip-drip-drip of plea bargains and bench trials reminds readers that the courtroom can be as dry and routine as any other workplace.

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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Whyseenyc on April 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a must read for anyone interested in how the American system of criminal justice really works (or, more precisely, doesn't work much at all). The author focuses on a particular courtroom in the Cook County Criminal Court building in Chicago, but the insights gained and lessons learned from this close look are applicable to any courtroom in America.

Bogira is insightful into the real workings of the system, and he tries to be fair to all participants. And though he refrains from preaching, the truth cannot be hidden: Our criminal justice system is a bureaucratic machine that grinds the poor (and the colored) into its wheels and churns out prisoners and wasted lives, with little or no sense or reason. And all this despite the best efforts of honest and decent men and women.

Even better -- Bogira's a wonderful writer and a great story teller. The writing is fluid and always insightful. The numerous characters -- the Judge, the assorted prosecutors and defense lawyers, and, of course, the defendants -- are brought to life by his writing. Despite its bulk, the book reads like any well-written story should: Quickly, and hard to put down. I recommend it highly.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Tom Cella on August 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The author does a remarkable job of drawing you in to the mechanics of a court in the 'real world'. It is true that the writer has a liberal viewpoint but this does not dampen the impact of the direct quotes he uses. The writing is thoroughly engaging and the 'story' kept me interested. Being from Chicago I understood the racism and corruption inherent in the system so I may have read it with more ease than others. It is an unflinching look at a system that tries to work and would be valuable reading for anyone interested in the field of criminal law.
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