Rubin ' Hurricane' Carter and the American Justice System

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Overview

Paul Wice takes the famous case of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter to another level of scrutiny as he puts the criminal justice system itself on trial. The case illustrates many of the weaknesses of our nation's much maligned criminal justice system." "Wice follows the torturous legal path of this case as it wound its way for twenty-two years through first the New Jersey and then the federal justice system. His interpretations are informed by interviews with key members of both the prosecution and defense as well as previously unused court documents and transcripts. He evaluates the Carter case within a larger theoretical framework to illustrate many of the critical weaknesses of the adversary system and appeals process that are so basic to the American judicial system.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Wice (political science, Drew U., Madison, NJ) evaluates the famous case of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a professional boxer wrongly convicted of murder, within a larger theoretical framework to illustrate the weaknesses of the adversary approach and appeals process that are basic to the American judicial system. Tracing the Carter case across 22 years in state and federal courts, Wice interviewed key members of the prosecution and defense teams and also analyzed previously unused court documents and transcripts. His aim, he writes, is to provide a balanced factual record that may "foster the insight that will help to forge a straighter, swifter path to justice in the future." Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A labored retelling of the controversial murder prosecution of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. After the innumerable articles, books, Web sites, television programs, and now even a Hollywood film devoted to Carter's legal woes, a potential reader could justifiably wonder what this new offering brings to the table. The answer: not much. Wice (Political Science/Drew Univ.) promises to use the case to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of our nation's criminal-justice system. He then proceeds to recount the tortuous path of Carter's prosecution in the most unimaginative manner possible. First, he structures the book chronologically rather than thematically, which impedes narrative flow without heightening suspense. Everyone knows the outcome to begin with, and, as anyone who has been called to jury duty realizes, trials typically provide five minutes of entertainment in five days of tedium. Second, Wice accepts too much offered by Carter and his defenders at face value, a dangerous proposition in the murky world of criminal prosecutions. For instance, he uncritically recounts Carter's recollection of an early criminal escapade: Carter and his friends stabbed a drunk young man because he"groped" them. Where is the proof of this? Perhaps it happened that way, but Wice presents the recollection as undisputed fact. Third, the book never delivers on its initial promise to tie Carter's unfortunate case to the institutional problems that beset the American justice system. Rather, it contents itself with a lackluster rehashing of the various legal proceedings and then concludes with an unconvincing chapter full of platitudes about theweaknessesof an adversarial system. Anyone interested in exploring the compelling case of Hurricane Carter would be well-advised to start elsewhere.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813528649
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 246
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Prologue 1
1 The Fateful Night: The Slaughter at the Lafayette Bar and Grill, June 17, 1966 3
2 Setting the Scene 19
3 The First Trial: May 1967 40
4 Between Trials: 1967-1976 68
5 The Second Trial: Part I 98
6 The Second Trial: Part II 121
7 Postscripts and Sideshows 146
8 The Appellate Labyrinth with a Federal Resolution 165
9 Final Judgment 193
Chronology 209
Dramatis Personae 211
Research and Sources 213
Notes 217
Index 223
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Interviews & Essays

Interview with Paul Wice, author of Robin "Hurricane" Carter and the American Justice System
Q: Why did you decide to write this book? What was it about the Carter case that inspired your research?
A: I knew a little bit about the case and when a friend suggested I look into it because a Drew University alum who I had once met was the judge in the second trial and would provide me with some useful material in understanding the case, I agreed to review it. As I learned more about the case my enthusiasm and curiosity increased. The timing was good because I had just finished a book and was looking for a new project. The facts of the case read like a made-for-television true crime thriller with many unexpected twists and fascinating characters.
Q: Many books have been written about this case. What makes yours unique?
A: Actually there have been only three books written about Carter and the case. In 1974, Carter wrote an autobiography (The Sixteenth Round). His story concluded well before his second trial commenced. A second book, Lazarus and the Hurricane, was written by two Canadians who befriended Carter in 1981 and assisted him in his successful federal appeal. This book formed the basis for the screenplay in the recent movie, The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington. It makes no apology for its strongly pro-Carter bias. As the movie was released in December of 1999, a new authorized biography written by journalist James Hirsch was published. The emphasis in all three books is on Carter rather than on his complex legal struggle. I believe my book differs from these prior works in its emphasis on the legal rather than the personal aspects of the case, its effort to remain objective, and in its comprehensive approach to the case tracing it from the crime scene through both trials and all subsequent appeals at both the state and federal level.
Q: Who are some of the people you interviewed for this book?
A: I interviewed a small group of judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors as well as a few journalists and public officials. Most wished to remain anonymous. Most of the people I contacted refused to speak, stating that too much time had passed or that the public record and newspapers told the entire story and they had nothing to add.
Q: You write that some of the people who consented to interviews were cautiously guarded in their comments, even though much of what they refused to discuss could easily be found in court documents or newspaper accounts. Why do you think people were so reticent?
A: Even though it has been over 20 years since the case was resolved, and 35 since the shootings occurred, the passions and hard feelings raised by this case are still evident. Especially with the movie's release, participants in the case were on their guard. Most understood that Carter would be viewed sympathetically while the Passaic County criminal justice establishment was likely to be characterized negatively. Interviewees were therefore nervous about making public statements that could possibly come back to haunt them. Many simply chose not to be interviewed or answered my questions in a cursory manner. Those that spoke in greater detail did so with the understanding that their comments would remain anonymous. A final reason for their reticence may have been the result of the long passage of time since the case was concluded as well as the numerous still unresolved questions.


Q: You interviewed many people involved with the case, but not Carter himself. Why?
A: I tried to reach Carter and obtain an interview, but was unsuccessful. He currently lives in Canada with an unlisted phone number. I do not believe his absence significantly affects the book since I was able to locate additional sources. His autobiography was helpful on his early life.

Q: If Carter and Artis were to be tried by a jury today, rather than in the 1960s and 1970s, do you think the verdict would be different? Why or why not?
A: This is a very difficult question but I think the defendants would still have a difficult time, especially if the jury was dominated by white jurors as in the first two trials. The demographics of the city of Paterson have changed significantly with a large Hispanic and Middle Eastern community, but overall the county is not too different. What impact the passage of 20 years would have upon a new group of jurors is impossible to estimate with any degree of confidence.

Q: Throughout the book, you point out the many examples of contradictory testimony and evidence that you feel should have made it difficult for a jury to find Carter and Artis guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet two juries concluded, with less than six hours of deliberation at each of the trials, that the defendants had committed the crimes. Why do you think they reached these decisions?
A: For two reasons. First, they felt the pressure of the white community (their neighbors) and the Paterson power structure (police and politicians) which demanded a conviction. They feared what would happen if an aggressive, outspoken black man like Carter was acquitted and sent back into the community. This was especially true after the first trial in 1967 when racial tensions were at their zenith. Second, the white jurors assumed that if the prosecutor believed enough in Bello and Bradley to put them on the stand, then they must be telling the truth. The only way for Carter to be acquitted was for the jurors to dismiss the judgment of the Paterson police and county prosecutor and they could not be expected to do that.
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