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Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  78 ratings  ·  14 reviews
What happens when public prosecutors, the most powerful officials in the criminal justice system, seek convictions instead of justice? Why are cases involving well-to-do victims often prosecuted more vigorously than those involving poor victims? Why do wealthy defendants frequently enjoy more lenient plea bargains than the disadvantaged? In this eye-opening work, Angela J. ...more
Paperback, 264 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published March 26th 2007)
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Jul 08, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: would-be criminals, AUSA aspirants, Americans, Jack McCoy
Shelves: wonktastic
I'm so frustrated by what Davis reveals that I want to write this review in all caps to get people to pay attention. Prosecutors, at all levels, have unchecked power with no transparency or accountability for the decisions they make and there is virtually nothing to be done about it. They can "overcharge" (tack on charges that they know they cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt) a criminal defendant, in order to better position themselves during plea bargaining and trial. They can impose expir ...more
Olivia Hill
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this for my law and society class, and I was pleasantly surprised by the readability. As someone who doesn't have much knowledge of the court system, Davis used real life examples to help deepend my understanding. Con though, she becomes repetitive over certain concepts and perhaps provides too many examples that may overwhelm the reader.
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would personally give this book 3 stars but have given it 4 stars because of the context in which it was first written and published. Any book about criminal justice reform is usually overshadowed by Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow," which was released only a few years after "Arbitrary Justice." This is the case here, as A.J. Davis' conclusions about the criminal justice seem tepid in light of Alexander's tour-de-force analysis. For example, while Davis only acknowledges the reality of ...more
Cody McCoy
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was an outstanding explanation of the immense discretion held by prosecutors. It’s not something the average person (myself included) knows much about, which is exactly part of the problem- in theory we vote our cruel or unfair prosecutors, but that is a totally ineffective check on their power. Mandatory minimums, the power and discretion of charging decisions and plea bargains, and the fact that so much takes place behind closed doors and so few people actually go to trial—- prosecut ...more
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super interesting read. Learned lots of new things (some frightening, some enlightening). What I admired most about Davis's work was her willingness to acknowledge and confront the complexity of the issue (of prosecutorial accountability and misconduct) while continuing to advocate for oversight and solutions to problems. There ARE some sections that read much more technical than I would have expected for a book marketed for the general public -- though I think the general public is more than ca ...more
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While this book was written a few years ago, it provides an excellent description of the breadth of power currently held by state and federal prosecutors, and sobering examples of that power being misused. The sections on prosecutorial misconduct, and the insufficient remedies currently available to combat it, provide a call to action that only grows more urgent with time.
Dave Mac
Informative, but somewhat repetitive. Definitely a book that should be read by those who do not understand the prosecutorial function in the US justice system, particularly the broad discretionary power that prosecutors have to shape the outcome of criminal cases.
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every American should read this book to understand the current situation in our country, especially with regards to the Brady rule and the role bar associations play in letting prosecutors off.
May 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vasja Volin
Well-written and well-argued. This book makes a great case for improving the laws surrounding prosecution to reduce bias and improve the justice system.
While a hard read (in more than one way) I learned quite a bit from Davis' personal experience and exhaustive research.
May 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
The author does an excellent job of showing in laymen terms the power of Prosecutors in the US and how this can affect the incarceration rate. It is an eye-opener and details how Prosecutors are rarely disciplined or monitored! She explains how Prosecutors produce unjust results in many cases.
Sam Newton
Fantastic critique of the power of American prosecutors and how, in their zeal, they often abuse their power. I did not, however, think that Davis gave concrete solutions to this very real problem. William Stuntz has proposed better solutions in his The Collapse of American Criminal Justice.
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
if you've taken criminal law, then you probably know most if not all of this book. but it's extremely well compiled! if you haven't taken criminal law, this could be mind-blowing.
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Angela J. Davis, professor of law at AU's Washington College of Law, is an expert in criminal law and procedure with a specific focus on prosecutorial power and racism in the criminal justice system. Davis previously served as director of the D.C. Public Defender Service, where she began as a staff attorney representing indigent juveniles and adults. She also served as executive director of the Na ...more

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