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Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  946 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
Courtroom 302 is the fascinating story of one year in Chicago's Cook County Criminal Courthouse, the busiest felony courthouse in the country. Here we see the system through the eyes of the men and women who experience it, not only in the courtroom but in the lockup, the jury room, the judge's chambers, the spectators' gallery. From the daily grind of the court to the high ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 14th 2006 by Vintage (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Mar 27, 2010 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since graduating law school nearly four years ago, I have worked in a courthouse. Among the many things I've learned - turn off your cell phones, don't run from the sheriffs because they have tasers, give the hot dogs a chance because they're not that bad - the thing that stands out is that the classic television show Night Court wasn't that far off the mark. No, I don't work a night shift, and no, there aren't nearly as many colorful characters, but Night Court got a lot right, but with a humor ...more
Mikey B.
Jul 19, 2015 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have always been a fan of courtroom drama (movie and TV, used to like the old “Law and Order”), so I was keen on this book and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The author gives us the entire apparatus of a courtroom in the city of Chicago. We are shown many levels: the defendants (most of whom are poor, African American, and many have been picked up on drug-related charges), the deputies who guard the defendants, the public defenders, the prosecutors, the judges, and some jury members are also i
Feb 23, 2009 Robyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So let me first disclose that although I don't know Bogira himself, I did go to high school with his eldest child, Natalie. That has no bearing on my review.

This book, after re-read, still gets 5 stars from me. I first read Courtroom 302 when it was first published since I was just in my 1st year of law school and my parents thought I'd like to read about the criminal system in Cook County (where I grew up).

Fast forward to the present--I'm back in Cook County--and I actually work for Cook County
Oct 05, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Gloria Swanson
Shelves: government, law

This account by Chicago Reader reporter Steve Bogira of a year spent observing Judge Daniel Locallo's courtroom in the Cook County Criminal Courthouse is fascinating, thoroughly researched, and well written. Bogira picks a handful of cases from the constant parade of addicts, drug dealers, accused murderers, aggravated batterers, and mobsters who pass before Locallo. We meet one 18 year old murder defendant who wears pigtails and jumpers with Winnie the Pooh logos, but has a tattoo of a hand clu
Una Tiers
Nov 22, 2015 Una Tiers rated it it was amazing
A re-read. This book presents a picture of the plight of those accused of crimes in Chicago, the political nature of law, lawyers and judges. What is worse is that the observations were probably dressed up and toned down. When this book was released in 2005, it sparked outrage and promises of reform that faded quickly.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a fascinating book about the workings of the criminal justice system in Chicago. The author spent a year in a felony courtroom, not only observing its public business but interviewing the judge, the prosecutors, the public defenders and private attorneys, the defendants, the families of the victims and accused.

Bogira is an excellent storyteller, and brings suspense to the story of each trial he highlights: the parade of small murder cases (which excite no media interest), the burglary ca
Nov 03, 2007 Larry rated it it was amazing
It's a good look behind the scenes of the out of control American "justice system". It's well written and very interesting, and you'll find yourself engaged in it despite the fact that there are dozens of characters, which could only be the case figuring the hundreds of thousands who get caught up in the law every year and the thousands employed to sort it all out. It provides a lot of history as well, which makes the book all the more depressing when you notice how little has changed since Amer ...more
Feb 19, 2010 Eric_W rated it really liked it
Courtroom 302 describes a world most of us will never see, nor would we wish to.

"No man can examine the great penal system of this country without being astounded at its magnitude, its cost and its unsatisfactory results," said John Altgeld, Cook County judge and later governor of Illinois in 1890. At that time, the end result was the imprisonment of fifty thousand citizens. Today the yield is 1.5 million.

Ironically the vast majority of those in the system are there for drug-related offenses, al
May 23, 2010 ambimb rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pdstuff
This was my second time reading this book. I read it first in about 2004 or 2005 while in law school, and recently picked it up again when I started working for the Cook County Public Defender. The book does a great job of giving readers a well-rounded understanding of how the criminal justice system functions in one of the most populous counties with one of the biggest (and most overcrowded) jails in the country. From Bogira's vantage point, it appears that lower level felony cases are just pro ...more
G.d. Brennan
Aug 11, 2012 G.d. Brennan rated it it was amazing
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 writ
Aug 20, 2010 Jen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Christine, Cynde
Recommended to Jen by: Kirsti
A compelling year-in-the-life-of a courtroom at Cook County Courthouse in Illinois, showing what a grind and numbers game day-to-day "justice" really is. It's a real eye-opener about the status-quo flaws of the justice system. One particularly revealing case I thought was where the defense and the prosecution were both arguing a case using a version of events that both sides knew to be untrue.

I was surprised by Bogira's ability to get so many different types of people to talk to him: prosecutor
May 23, 2010 William rated it did not like it
Blah...I couldn't finish it. It was not what I expected. It was dry and lacked any emotion. Most of the book was about the history of the court system in Chicago. While it may be interesting to legal scholars it was not to me. Also, what I did learn about the legal process was depressing. There are few trials anymore. Most of the cases are just plea bargained to make room for the next one. Whatever happened to justice?
Apr 17, 2007 Carl rated it it was amazing
Just an outstanding glimpse into the everyday legal cases that might fill the metro section of any major city newspaper. Bogira follows these cases from the perspective of the judge, the defendant, the DA, the families involved, and the city at large. The book never gets tiresome as there is an excellent mixture of the variety of cases and stories, and the ongoing cases that hook you in from the beginning.
Dec 14, 2007 Paul rated it liked it
ProDefense book on life at the Chicago criminal courthouse. I read it before i started work and went in with sympathy for the plight of the defendants. Once I heard from the victims, my focus changed to realizing the courtroom as a whole is filled with tragedy. From the first defendant I came across with a tattoo on his arm "Loved by Few" to the 80 year old mother of the murder victim who grabbed my arm and in frail spanish yelled lucha which means fight. The author spends a year at the courthou ...more
Mary Whisner
Mar 29, 2013 Mary Whisner rated it really liked it
In Courtroom 302, journalist Steve Bogira chronicles, as the subtitle indicates, "A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse." The courthouse is not any courthouse, but the one that handles all the criminal cases in Cook County, Illinois.

The book opens on a morning in early January 1998 as police wagons unload prisoners picked up the night before to make their first appearances in court. The author describes the prisoners -- mostly people picked up for possession of drugs, but
A fascinating inside view of the Cook County criminal courts. It’s important for all of us to understand how law works on the ground, right here in our city.

"This is a journalist's rendering of criminal proceedings here on the South Side of Chicago based on, more or less, hanging around a building and paying attention. It seems that this kind of reporting is increasingly rare in newspaper form, whether or not online, and the practice might have to shift into book form, whether or not electronic.
Sep 16, 2008 Kirsti rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kirsti by: Mark
"How do I feel about the fact that the truth never comes out in court? The truth never comes out in life." --Marijane Placek, public defender

Very compelling account of one year spent inside one Chicago courtroom by an award-winning reporter.

I love these "a year on the scene" investigative-journalism books. Other good ones: Newjack by Ted Conover (a year as a guard in Sing Sing) and The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns (nearly two years in an open-air drug market in Baltimore).
May 12, 2015 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Courtroom 302 was written by a journalist named Steve Bogira. As read in the subtitle, " A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse ", a very detailed and interesting description of what exactly goes on in a courtroom behind close doors is given. Except, this courthouse in particular isn't like all of the others, it handles all of the criminal cases in Cook County, Illinois.

The book, written in the 90's, opens up in early January when prisoners, who were picked up the night befo
Dec 28, 2014 Hank rated it really liked it
Shelves: law-and-justice
Having retired from a career as a lawyer, albeit one who did not represent the accused, I did not think that I could be surprised by a book about our criminal justice system. I was wrong. Bogira's description of the, to be frank, questionable motives of prosecutors and judges in pushing cases through Chicago's local courts is shocking. Judges apparently punish defendants who request a trial, as they have the right to do. Prosecutors basically blackmail those who are arrested - not convicted, min ...more
Lucia Orozco
May 15, 2014 Lucia Orozco rated it it was amazing
I read this for my law class in high school. My awesome teacher was able to have Bogira and the main judge of the book to come in to our classroom and discuss the book (both came on different days).

This book lets you see past the criminal. You no longer ask "did you do it?" Instead you ask "tell me about yourself, your life." You see the bigger picture and no longer just see the cold hard facts of a crime, instead you see the complexity of everything.

I recall my teacher making a comparison. Th
Jul 16, 2010 Heather rated it it was amazing
This book is extremely depressing but wonderfully written. Bogira is very even-handed in his description of all the people who pass through the country's largest felony court, in Cook County, IL (Chicago). His fair treatment of defendants, judges, court staff, lawyers, and police is an excellent reminder that the law is many things but above all it's a human institution. While I can't ever see myself working in the criminal court system instead of the civil one, I'm very glad I read this book.
Mark Bowman
Aug 02, 2014 Mark Bowman rated it really liked it
Fascinating portrayal of life inside one judge's courtrooms in the Cook County Courthouse. Depicts the grueling life of the courtroom personnel and how the system attempts to function under a huge load of arrests and criminal procedures. Reader get glimpses of the often inhuman treatment of persons who go through this system. While the reader can see the tradeoffs that are made in order to keep the system running, you can't help but think--surely we can do better than this.
Dec 26, 2012 Amy rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I have reread it, and found that worthwhile too. I can't fall into fiction anymore, and I thought it was impossible to 'fall' into nonfiction. I was wrong. The drama of a courtroom, of the whole caseload, not just one story, is what makes this unforgettable. If you want to know more about a particular person's story, most of the time, too bad, he took a plea and moved on. Real life timing is a mess, but for readability, it's amazing.
May 04, 2008 Cari rated it it was amazing
This book taught me many of the ins and outs of the courts with gritty, real "reporting," which is really just artful storytelling with the truth. As the author points out in the beginning of the book, he set out and succeeded in documenting our justice system when it is working exactly as we designed it and still fails to administer anything close to justice.
Ann Olson
Feb 24, 2014 Ann Olson rated it really liked it
Gave a detailed, interesting, and varied account of what happens in a southside Chicago courtroom (or at least in the 90s). Dang the criminal justice system is frustrating. It's clearly not working so how does it continue in this way... I like his point about Darrow who argued that crime would not be reduced until we look at the motives and reasons instead of just punishing people- then compared this to doctors not treating causes. Such an important point.

Sometimes the court cases were so numer
Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch
Dec 28, 2014 Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: human-ways

But you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood –

Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees,
Who write misfortune,
Which they have prescribed
To rob the needy of justice,
And to take what is right from the poor of My people,
That widows may be their prey,
And that they may rob the fatherless.

What will you do in the day of punishment,
And in the desolation which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your glory?
Without Me they s
Mandi | No Apathy Allowed
Jan 29, 2015 Mandi | No Apathy Allowed rated it really liked it
I think the most terrifying thing about Courtroom 302 is its portrayal of how the justice system actually functions when it functions according to the law. As in, there is something terribly unjust about the U.S. justice system (yeah, I know, news flash). Bogira spent one year in a criminal courtroom in Chicago, following the cases presented to one particular judge. I expected racial and class injustices (of which, there were many examples) and the absurd number of small time drug offenses clogg ...more
Nov 10, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: 2005
The next book I read was Courtroom 302, in which a Chicago journalist spends a year in a low-level criminal courtroom, observing the judge, prosecutors, public defenders, defendants, witnesses, and jurors. I found the book interesting primarily because the court was very similar to one in which I served as a juror a few years ago, only the author of the book lavishes the kind of research and attention on each defendant that no one in the criminal justice system has time to do. He shows how most ...more
Marik Casmon
Aug 13, 2009 Marik Casmon rated it liked it
This book by Steve Bogira is an account of a courtroom in the Cook County Courthouse. It focuses on one judge and a variety of cases that his court deals with.

Because the book involves a number of defendants and a wide variety of issues, it has less narrative focus than some courtroom books, but it does an excellent job of presenting the complexities of the actual operations of a big-city courthouse and its supporting police, etc., operations that vary in quality from outrageous to courageous.

Brittany Kubes
Dec 18, 2011 Brittany Kubes rated it really liked it
After spending 1 year in courtroom 302 and countless hours researching, Bogira produced a well-rounded view of the criminal justice system, by way of case studies, as it exists at the courthouse on 26th & California in Chicago. As a (novice) criminal defender in Chicago, I think 26th/Cal is the most beautiful building I have ever seen – I love being there, I love the looming pillared structure, and I love the influx of people, crying and scheming. It gives me chills! I’ve been meaning to rea ...more
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