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The Collapse of American Criminal Justice

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  160 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
The rule of law has vanished in America's criminal justice system. Prosecutors now decide whom to punish and how severely. Almost no one accused of a crime will ever face a jury. Inconsistent policing, rampant plea bargaining, overcrowded courtrooms, and ever more draconian sentencing have produced a gigantic prison population, with black citizens the primary defendants ...more
Hardcover, 413 pages
Published September 30th 2011 by Belknap Press
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H.
Oct 01, 2013 H. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: professional
This book made me more uncomfortable than any book I have read in at least the past three years. That is an enormous testament to its brilliance and importance. Stuntz claims that we have created a criminal justice system “both harsh and ineffective.” If you accept as a basic principle that the criminal justice system exists to minimize the harm caused to all Americans, both criminals and non-criminals, then this is a damning indictment indeed.

Criticism of the criminal justice system is the rule
...more
Mark Flowers
Apr 28, 2012 Mark Flowers rated it really liked it
This is a pretty phenomenal book - tracing the history of American Criminal Justice, and showing how it has come to be such a complete failure. Stuntz's counter-intuitive claim that the Warren Court's focus on procedural changes actually facilitated the collapse turns out to be pretty convincing, with the exception of his very strained take on the 4th Amendment (he seems not to be worried about cases like the Bush wiretap scandal and other cases when innocent people can be searched or targeted ...more
Converse
Jul 27, 2012 Converse rated it liked it

The very title, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,posits that there are serious defects in the system. The problems that the late author, William J. Stuntz, sees have a paradoxical relationship to one another. One the one hand, the United States is imprisoning a historically unprecedentedly large proportion of its population, about 500 per 100,000 people. A bit over 2,000,000 people are in prison or jail, primarily the former. The large numbers of cases that are needed to imprison so ma

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Graham Polando
Apr 13, 2013 Graham Polando rated it it was ok
Ultimately very, very disappointing. The book’s central insight--that the Warren Court’s criminal procedure revolution spurred a punitive backlash with which we live today--is an important one, but one that Stuntz had soberly made before. Here he severely overstates his case, claiming, for example, that the Confrontation Clause can serve no rational purpose.

Of course, the Clause and other procedural barriers to criminal convictions are at least intended to produce accurate results. Whether they
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Patiki
Mar 18, 2012 Patiki rated it it was ok
I was disappointed. There's a lot of opinion-stated-as-fact, and also a lot of repitition. This book is 400+ pages, with 100 pages of notes and 300 pages of regular text. The 300 pages of regular text could be distilled into a twenty-page law review article. Most of the remaining 280 pages consists of the author repeating the same ideas over and over again.

I was particularly interested to learn about the author's low opinion of police and prosecutor discretion. The book has some decent history a
...more
Ironman Ninetytwo
Dec 24, 2013 Ironman Ninetytwo rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A (sort of) interesting history of how we have treated criminals in the U.S. It illustrates the failed promise of equal protection and the abandonment of reconstruction, and the destructive effects of prhibition and it's cousin the anti-drug crusade. It also highlights the perils of a judicial approach that extracts plea bargains by creating a blanket of shades of crimes that make trial extremely risky. For example, historically about 1/3 of guilty verdicts came from trial. Today that rate is ...more
Jonathan Blanks
May 12, 2014 Jonathan Blanks rated it really liked it
Stuntz did a great job putting the current American criminal justice system in its historical and political context--and offers a critique of the Warren Court I hadn't really thought about before reading the book. I'm not fully persuaded by it, but I think that Warren & co. wrote decisions that were easily undermined by technical workarounds is beyond dispute. Whether or not they deserve as much blame as he gives them, I'm less sure.

He made some broad cultural assumptions at times, but gener
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Nita
Feb 05, 2012 Nita marked it as to-read
Stuntz was my classmate in law school. This book is a brilliant critique of the American criminal justice system, with important suggestions for reform. Stuntz was an outstanding yet humble law professor (Harvard Law) and legal scholar, and his recent death is a major loss to legal scholarship.
Jon
Nov 27, 2016 Jon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: law-policy
Criminal law is one of the most heavily politicized areas of laws we have. It lies at the intersection of social policy (e.g., drug legalization), issues of human dignity (e.g., capital punishment), debates about the meaning of "law and order," all with racial overtones (e.g., mass incarceration). For that reason, it is difficult to write a book that manages to thread the needle of addressing the topic in a substantive and rich way without coming across as ideological. Stuntz does just this, ...more
Marc
Mar 06, 2012 Marc rated it really liked it
Just a fantastic overview of the American criminal justice "system." Stuntz was a legal scholar of the first rank, but this book is so much more than just a review of ConCrimPro black-letter law: Stuntz weaves together demographic, political, and legal history with a healthy helping of legal analysis and political theory into a coherent theoretical framework, then concludes with some creative (if not particularly plausible) suggestions for improving our woefully broken approach to criminal ...more
Mary
Jun 19, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing


Scholarly but accessible to a lay audience, this tremendously valuable history and critique of the American justice "system" traces the legal history, the political history and the demographics of a complex problem and proposes solutions. 312 pages of text that I read slowly and 100 pages of footnotes that I skipped through. Just for one example, we incarcerate 743 people per 100,000 in population. That's ten times more than Denmark, seven times more than we did in 1972, a third more than Russi
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Bookman8
Jul 23, 2013 Bookman8 rated it it was amazing
This book is written for lawyers and politicians, but quite readable and informative in spite of its difficult style. Stuntz (deceased) discusses the evolution of modern criminal law, and the reasons for the present, over-crowded prison system.
I have often stated that we place too much emphasis on national political campaigns, and much too little on local elections. m This book acknowledges and speaks to the same problem with regard to the criminal justice system. We have relinquished the local
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Allee
Apr 26, 2012 Allee rated it liked it
I was excited to read this, but it ended up being a bit more academic than I was hoping. One of those situations where I would open it to read and fall asleep 3 pages later. Coming on the heels of a talk by Michelle Alexander, I also felt it skipped some of the background behind why our criminal justice system is so messed up - it focused a lot on the procedural rules that have been established by the Supreme Court, but not really the nefarious race-based motivations of the war on drugs that ...more
Mary Gail O'Dea
Feb 12, 2012 Mary Gail O'Dea rated it liked it
The book is informative and accessible to the non-lawyer. It was fascinating to learn the history of the development of criminal law in the US and to get to know the ways in which the current criminal justice system is very short on justice. My biggest complaint is that the book is endlessly repetitive -- as if it were originally a set of stand-alone articles. I found that to really distract from the book's ability to hold my interest.
Sam Newton
This was perhaps the best critique I have ever read of the criminal justice system. Bold, insightful, extremely thoughtful, and practical. It's a travesty that he's not around to continue to contribute his thoughts in the future. This is way better than the standard leftist critique that the system is racist and overly punitive. While Stuntz makes the same points, he explains why this happened and provides concrete feedback for real change. This was one amazing book!
David Susman
Sep 28, 2012 David Susman rated it it was amazing
Stuntz provides a pull-no-punches review of the American Criminal Justice system and where he thinks it went wrong. There is a great deal of historic context and development that sets the stage for is final analysis. This unapologetic look at a broken system is refreshing even while its candor is a bit challenging.
Jerreed
Aug 03, 2012 Jerreed rated it liked it
This book is full of data! This is good and bad. I felt a little overwhelmed at times during this book. This feeling was not due to complexity of the material, but in the sheer volume of information to take in. It is a great book to point out the problems with the criminal justice system of America, but disappointed at the lack of proposed solutions.
Noah
Apr 24, 2012 Noah rated it liked it
This book has plenty of interesting points to make. Unfortunately, like so many books of the genre, the author's head was clearly bursting with too many different things to say and the result is a very scattered work that tries to do too much instead of walking through a focused case from beginning to end.
G
Jan 10, 2012 G rated it really liked it
Shelves: high-caliber
I would have liked a little less history and a little more of Stuntz's expert opinion and musings on American criminal justice, but his points are well-argued, cogent, and far too sensible to ever be enacted.
Kevin
Jan 22, 2012 Kevin rated it really liked it
A very informative and interesting take on the problems of the criminal justice system. Proposals focused on reducing the incarceration rate and the crime rate.
Reid
Jan 31, 2015 Reid rated it it was amazing
Riveting account of how a huge percentage of America's human potential is essentially flushed down the toilet and how the politics of the USA causes it and how it might be corrected.
Sean
Dec 02, 2014 Sean rated it it was ok


Good. Important. Needs dilution. About 200 pages could be shaved off making it easier to digest.
Camille
Camille rated it really liked it
Oct 18, 2014
Mina Davis
Mina Davis rated it it was amazing
Mar 09, 2012
Zach Jones
Zach Jones rated it it was amazing
Jan 19, 2012
Taite
Taite rated it really liked it
May 26, 2012
Patrick L. Bryant
Patrick L. Bryant rated it it was amazing
Jun 02, 2015
Tom
Tom rated it it was amazing
Jul 09, 2014
Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough rated it liked it
Jul 11, 2014
Joel Johnson
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Oct 08, 2016
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William J. Stuntz (July 3, 1958 – March 15, 2011) was a criminal justice scholar and a professor at Harvard Law School.

Stuntz was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up Annapolis, Maryland. He received his Bachelor's at The College of William & Mary and his degree in law at University of Virginia School of Law. Subsequently he clerked for Associate Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Foll
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“By making defense lawyers more central to criminal litigation than they already were and by dramatically enlarging the range of legal claims they could raise on their clients' behalf, Warren's Court increased the gap between rich and poor defendants-and, given the racial distribution of poverty in midcentury America, between black and white defendants as well. Because the time and quality of defense counsel mattered more than before, those defendants who could buy better quality attorneys and pay them to work more hours were more advantaged than before. Relatively speaking, their poorer counterparts grew more disadvantaged. The justice system grew less egalitarian through the Supreme Court's efforts to make it more so.
The”
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