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Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court [Paperback]

by Amy Bach
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 3, 2010 0805092277 978-0805092271 1

"A groundbreaking book . . . revealing the systemic, everyday problems in our courts that must be addressed if justice is truly to be served."—Doris Kearns Goodwin

Attorney and journalist Amy Bach spent eight years investigating the widespread courtroom failures that each day upend lives across America. What she found was an assembly-line approach to justice: a system that rewards mediocre advocacy, bypasses due process, and shortchanges both defendants and victims to keep the court calendar moving.

Here is the public defender who pleads most of his clients guilty with scant knowledge about their circumstances; the judge who sets outrageous bail for negligible crimes; the prosecutor who habitually declines to pursue significant cases; the court that works together to achieve a wrongful conviction. Going beyond the usual explanations of bad apples and meager funding, Ordinary Injustice reveals a clubby legal culture of compromise, and shows the tragic consequences that result when communities mistake the rules that lawyers play by for the rule of law. It is time, Bach argues, to institute a new method of checks and balances that will make injustice visible—the first and necessary step to reform.

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805092277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092271
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empathy/Justice Fatigue 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
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow. September 7, 2009
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
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book could have been written about Maine 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
Maine Indigent Defense Center
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ordinary injustice September 17, 2009
This is how a book about a problem in our legal system should be written. With fascinating vignettes, Ms Bach makes it clear that although many of the problems' causers are very wrong, they are often almost ignorant of the harm they are doing. I recommend it highly.

Stephen Adler
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our broken legal system 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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Highly readable page turner. I'm sure this will become a staple in college and law school classes for years to come.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A. Nye
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, truly eye opening and sad....
Great book. Eye opening and well worth a Saturday in the rocker at the fire. Never knew that the system had such systemic problems.
Published 1 month ago by Steven G. Robinett
4.0 out of 5 stars Telling It Like It is
Teaching a course in the politics of the legal system, and this is a great
background read, both a learning tool and a stimulus for good discussion.
Published 3 months ago by Henry J. Lunardi
5.0 out of 5 stars Excelent Real World View
I found this book to be an excellent glimpse into how the court system works in the real world rather than on paper or as seen on TV. Read more
Published 13 months ago by M. Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary Injustice: For Ordinary people. Forewarned is forearmed!
Make informed decisions. Before you have a need-to-know, read the eye-opening "Ordinary Injustice" and discuss with family and friends. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Katie Did
5.0 out of 5 stars No accountability in our Justice System
This book is a must read for anyone caring about our system of justice. The fact is there are many innocent people in prison. Read more
Published on September 2, 2011 by A. Abbott
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! Even for those not of the criminal justice major...
I had to get this book for one of my criminal justice classes and my professor kept saying that it was a great read and reminded us to hurry up and read it. Read more
Published on July 28, 2011 by Linna
4.0 out of 5 stars A searing, but necessary indictment
As a criminal defense lawyer who has represented hundreds of indigent criminals in the past twenty years this book was a welcome yet, even to me, eye-opening description of our... Read more
Published on June 5, 2011 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, Important book
This is an elegantly written, vigorously argued book, part courtroom drama, part expose. We all know that the courts don't always produce justice, but this book reveals that the... Read more
Published on March 26, 2010 by Robert R. Perkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars System broken
If you think the health care system in this country is broken, wait to you read this book. Through a series of riveting, up-close stories, Bach shows that our courts produce more... Read more
Published on March 26, 2010 by Amika
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