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Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court Hardcover – September 1, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0805074475 ISBN-10: 0805074473 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805074473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805074475
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,244,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lawyer and journalist Bach exposes a litany of failures and systematic shoddiness at the core of the American criminal justice system that goes unchecked because the people affected tend to be poor, minorities or both, and because problems are so pervasive that they have become invisible to defenders, prosecutors and judges alike. Bach sees this blindness as a product of a public that cares little for the rights of the accused so long as someone—anyone—is convicted and a courthouse community where prosecutor, defending attorney and judge share a commitment to maintaining order, even at the expense of justice. Readers looking for solutions will be disappointed; the author offers only a call for transparency, particularly the creation of metrics for courtroom success, and nationwide monitoring. More compelling is her portrayal of the people hurt in this system—the victims of crimes, the falsely convicted and the defenders, prosecutors and judges whose own humanity is undermined when they lose sight of the justice they supposedly serve. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“More than anything else I have read, Ordinary Injustice tells us what actually happens in the prosecutorial world. That reality is painfully different from the romantic picture of constitutional rights triumphant that I helped to paint in Gideon’s Trumpet. It is a fascinating and essential book.”
—Anthony Lewis, author of Freedom of the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment
 
Ordinary Injustice takes the reader to unexamined fiefdoms across the country and brings them deep into the heart of the way justice truly happens on a day-to-day level.  It shows how dangerous it is when any one of the clearly defined roles in the system malfunctions. No one concerned with the state of this country’s democracy can afford to ignore this necessary book.”
—Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of The Innocence Project, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
 
“Amy Bach sets out to uncover and, more important, explain widespread failures of the legal process. That she achieves this is reason enough to read and respect Ordinary Injustice. But she does it in a way that turns a necessary study into a hard-to-put down narrative that sometimes reads like a screenplay. Best of all, Bach exudes understanding, even empathy, for those bad actors whom she rightly concludes shouldn’t be blamed alone—because, as she writes, ‘pinning the problem on any one bad apple fails to indict the tree from which it fell.’”
—Steven Brill, founder of Court TV and The American Lawyer
 
“This is a magnificent work, a crusading call for reform in the tradition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed. With her remarkable skills as a reporter and her masterful storytelling ability, Amy Bach provides a fascinating range of individual stories to reveal the systemic, everyday problems in our courts that must be addressed if justice is truly to be served. This groundbreaking book deserves widespread attention.”
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals
 
“This is a very important book for any one seriously concerned about the continuing struggle for civil rights in this nation. Amy Bach takes us into courtrooms, judges’ chambers, and prosecutors’ offices and reveals what years of bias, neglect, and indifference have left: a system where the accused, victims, and their families get little or no individual attention, are often bewildered by the process and, at the end of the day are left without justice. As I read through these revealing and shocking pages, I was saddened, angered and outraged. I hope outrage will push citizens everywhere to demand fulfillment of the birthright of every American: equal justice under the law.”
—Reverend Joseph E. Lowery, Co-Founder and President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
 
“Every judge, prosecutor, and defense lawyer should read Ordinary Injustice. I hope it will compel us to reevaluate the injustice that occurs with impunity and regularity in our criminal justice system and I recommend it with great enthusiasm to anyone concerned about inequality and the law.”
—Charles J. Ogletree Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
 
“Moving, illuminating, damning. Bach gets beyond the usual suspects, exposing a corrosive culture. It is a tribute to its honesty that Ordinary Injustice will make readers squirm.”
—Steve Bogira, author of Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse
 
“Here is an extraordinary survey of the American criminal justice system that shows how it has become less reliable, less rational, and less just. This is a must-read for anyone interested in how our system functions, and fails, in too many communities.”
—Bryan Stevenson, Director, Equal Justice Initiative, New York University School of Law

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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If you think the health care system in this country is broken, wait to you read this book.
Amika
Amy Bach shares her much-researched knowledge with us about the true workings of our court system today.
Katie Did
Ms Bach's book is brilliantly written and researched and is accessible to non-lawyers, like me.
Evan E. Seevak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Neff on October 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Evan E. Seevak on September 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Ruffner on October 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. Nye on April 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Attorney and journalist Amy Bach spent eight years investigating injustice in our court systems. I'm not talking about the individual instances of injustice that we've all read about in the past - false confessions, dirty cops, or the wrongful conviction of the innocent.

Instead of merely focusing on individuals, Bach investigated the systematic lapses in our court system and shows the reader how justice can fail throughout the entire legal process.

As she notes in her introduction:

This book examines how state criminal trial courts regularly permit basic failures of legal process, such as the mishandling of a statutory allegation. 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. There are times when an alarming miscarriage of justice does come to light and exposes the complacency within the system, but in such instances the public often blames a single player, be it a judge, a prosecutor, or a defense attorney. The point of departure for each chapter in this book is the story of one individual who has found himself condemned in this way. What these examples show, however, is that pinning the problem on any one bad apple fails to indict the tree from which it fell. While it is convenient to isolate misconduct, targeting an individual only obscures what is truly going on from the scrutiny change requires. This system involves too many players to hold one accountable for the routine injustice happening in courtrooms across America.

The book is divided into four sections. The first deals with Robert E.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Boyce on December 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In four reportorial chapters and one author's summary Bach portrays a legal system seriously dysfunctional, broken, and downright frightening. It is both an eye-opener to those of us non-initiates to the legal system (i.e., most of us) and a call for reform, greater transparency, and greater accountability to those it serves: all U.S. citizens.

In easily readable, jargon-free prose Bach manages to both portray the systemic ills and deliver its impact on real people: both defendants and victims of crime. She memorably depicts the harm done to people's lives by this broken system by interviewing those involved and making us understand how it directly affects them. All this in ideologically balanced, well-argued prose which makes the four chapters so memorable and, ultimately, so tragic.

(Think of medical malpractice run wild and unchecked and the damage that would do, and you'll get some idea of how broken the legal system is as portrayed in this book.)

The four chapters cover the criminal legal process at the state, not the federal, level by depicting systemic problems in each:
1. A public defender's system in Georgia.
2. A rogue judge in Troy, New York
3. A ream of deserving but unprosecuted cases in Mississippi
4. A wrongful conviction for murder in Chicago

Each presents the legal system delivering injustice due to ineptness, incompetence, a lack of adequate resources, or unchecked police/prosecutorial zeal and fervor.

Any person who might ever be involved in the U.S. court system should read this book. It's a call for action, now.
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