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

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  736 ratings  ·  119 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

(showing 1-30 of 1,617)
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Matt
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
Robyn
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...more
Lobstergirl
Oct 05, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Gloria Swanson
Shelves: law, government

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...more
Larry
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
Eric_W
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...more
ambimb
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
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...more
Carl
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.
Paul
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
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...more
Jen
Aug 20, 2010 Jen rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
UChicagoLaw
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....more
Lucia Orozco
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...more
Heather
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
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.
Amy
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.
William
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?
Ann Olson
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...more
Emily
Nov 10, 2009 Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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.

Th...more
Brittany Kubes
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
Converse
In 1998, the author spent a year following the events in one courtroom in the Chicago courthouse that deals with criminal cases. The book was published several years later, and consequently the author has some information about what happened to the judge and some of the defendents.

There are tens of thousands of cases that come through the courthouse every year. The Cook County Jail, attached to the courthouse, does not have anything like the space to house all of the defendents. Most of these ca...more
Laura
If I could give this book more than 5 stars, I would. Unlike most non-fiction, this book held my attention the whole way through; it was a real page-turner.

Bogira gained unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to actors in the criminal justice system: prosecutors, public defenders, judges, victims, family members, defendants, police officers, etc., and he managed to present the subject in (what appeared to be) a balanced manner. Bogira didn't shy away from pointing out ways in which injustice ha...more
Kethra
Courtroom 302 is a non-fiction book written by an investigative reporter who spends a year inside one of the busiest criminal courthouses in the nation. Steve Bogira vividly reports all the inner workings of Chicago’s Cook County Criminal Courthouse from all perspectives. He opens the book with the description of the checking-in process of the prisoners awaiting their time in court. The inmates are sworn at and belittled as a “preventative measure” to keep them in line and are herded like cattle...more
Jae
Fascinating account of a reporter's year spent in the courtroom of one judge in Chicago, covering the cases and talking to the people who passed through. One thing the book really brought home was the sheer overwhelming number of cases that come through the court each year, so many that judges and attorneys spend mostly spend only a few minutes or less determining the outcome of each hearing, so many that the courtroom really appears more like an overworked factory than an instrument of justice....more
Abby
Jun 21, 2008 Abby rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in law, politics or social justice
Recommended to Abby by: Nick
Further proof that I cannot go into law or politics. This extremely insightful book follows one Chicago criminal courtroom over the course over a year, detailing several of the cases, big and small, that take place in Judge Locallo's courtroom. The author does a good job matter-of-factly describing everyone's roles in this broken system. He allows everyone (judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, defendants, witnesses, jury members, police officers, courthouse staff, etc.) to speak for themselve...more
Elizabeth Nesbit-comer
an interesting look into a very busy courtroom. The author did a fair job of showing how utterly rediculous it is for us to spend so much time and money on booking, processing, and jailing petty drug offences. The war on drugs is not going to be won by arresting 33,000 offenders with a gram or less on their possesion expecially when we just plea them down to probation that no one has time to keep track of. I know that this is not popular view, but this books logic makes a strong case for not nec...more
Michael
Very reminiscent of my time in DC Superior Court.

It took me a while to finish this, but I feel like it plods on. A lot of the chapters get to feeling very similar. Nonetheless, it does a great job of capturing the feel of working in a meatgrinder of a justice system.

This book at times feels biased, but not necessarily in terms of a defense or prosecution biased. Instead, I might characterize it as jaded, constantly having a sense of idealism contrasted with the reality of how criminal justice w...more
Billy
Pulp non-fiction. Laments the many cut corners of procedural justice in criminal prosecutions through vivid real-life stories. The candor of all the players here - judges, prosecutors, public defenders, sheriff's deputies, and the defendants themselves - is sometimes startling. Although not a policy polemic itself, it illustrates through actual individual cases how the war on drugs is effectively structured mainly as a control and containment strategy for the black/brown and poor. A surreal mome...more
Laura
A great look at the criminal justice system, through the eyes of one court observer. Though the author doesn't spend much time editorializing, it's practically impossible to read this book and not come to the conclusion that our justice system is seriously messed up. The author's narrative style makes it an easy read, and it touches on a number of different issues, including drug sentencing, the role of race in the justice system, and the validity of confessions. This book would be a great pairi...more
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