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

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,444 ratings  ·  174 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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Average rating 3.99  · 
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 ·  1,444 ratings  ·  174 reviews

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Start your review of Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse
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
May 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Oct 19, 2008 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
Mikey B.
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
Una Tiers
Nov 11, 2015 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 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
Apr 05, 2010 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
Mar 23, 2009 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
Frank Stein
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A lot of what is in this book is also in hundreds of other books and articles about the sad intersection of poverty and criminal justice. There are petty thefts, domestic violence cases, parole violations and all manner of drug cases. The slightly changed perspective of this book, however, viewing the cases not as part of a neighborhood story or a defendant biography but as part of a single courtroom supervised by one judge, Daniel Locallo, in Cook County, Illinois's criminal courthouse, gives t ...more
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thought this was an really interesting read even though I've been an Assistant Public Defender for 13 years. What makes this book unique is that it is written by an unbiased observer of the criminal justice system in the country's busiest courthouse. Not only does the reader get insights from the prosecutors and defense attorneys (Public Defenders and private attorneys), but also the courthouse staff, the defendants, and the judge who he followed. To be perfectly honest, I was really shocked a ...more
G.d. Brennan
Aug 11, 2012 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
Sep 17, 2008 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
Apr 17, 2007 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.
Jan 30, 2008 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? ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Steve Bogira, a long time reporter for the Chicago Reader, spent a year digging through the court cases. Most cases involve uneducated, poor, drug-addicted minorities.

Sadly, the only truly empathetic people showcased in Bogira's book are the mothers of the victims and the mothers of the defendants. Many of the judges lack ethics, or at best, show inconsistent good judgement. Judge Daniel Locallo, who is at the heart of Bogira's story, appears to be honest and hard working...until Bogira
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Detailed, absorbing, sometimes disturbing account of life in a Chicago court house.
Sterling Beck
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you liked Evicted, you'll love this. The inspiration for Serial S3, the author does an amazing job of following several repeat offenders through Chicago's justice system in the 90s with some surprising political machinations. ...more
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
First read of the new year!
PopSugar 2019 Challenge
Two word title
Brittany Kubes
Dec 04, 2011 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 read th ...more
Mary Whisner
Mar 29, 2013 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
Dec 13, 2007 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
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 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).
Jul 14, 2010 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. ...more
Dec 26, 2012 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. ...more
Mark Bowman
Jun 02, 2014 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. ...more
May 04, 2008 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. ...more
Jul 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It will make you never watch Law and Order again.
Jul 01, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2015-16
After re-reading Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow earlier this month, I decided to follow up on the recommendation of an old professor by reading Steve Bogira's Courtroom 302. Having recently attended a screening of the film "Paper Tigers," I was interested to see if Bogira's book identified the same environmental stressors on judicial defendants as did the film with regard to stress and students.

A catalogue of a full year of action in Chicago’s Cook County Criminal Courthouse, Bogira
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