The Collapse of American Criminal Justice

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice

by William J. Stuntz


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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 and victims of crime. In this passionately argued book, the leading criminal law scholar of his generation looks to history for the roots of these problems—and for their solutions.

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice takes us deep into the dramatic history of American crime—bar fights in nineteenth-century Chicago, New Orleans bordellos, Prohibition, and decades of murderous lynching. Digging into these crimes and the strategies that attempted to control them, Stuntz reveals the costs of abandoning local democratic control. The system has become more centralized, with state legislators and federal judges given increasing power. The liberal Warren Supreme Court’s emphasis on procedures, not equity, joined hands with conservative insistence on severe punishment to create a system that is both harsh and ineffective.

What would get us out of this Kafkaesque world? More trials with local juries; laws that accurately define what prosecutors seek to punish; and an equal protection guarantee like the one that died in the 1870s, to make prosecution and punishment less discriminatory. Above all, Stuntz eloquently argues, Americans need to remember again that criminal punishment is a necessary but terrible tool, to use effectively, and sparingly.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674725874
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/07/2013
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 564,348
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

William J. Stuntz was Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard University.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Rule of Too Much Law 1

I Crime and Punishment 13

1 Two Migrations 15

2 "The Wolf by the Ear" 41

II The Past 61

3 Ideals and Institutions 63

4 The Fourteenth Amendment's Failed Promise 99

5 Criminal Justice in the Gilded Age 129

6 A Culture War and Its Aftermath 158

7 Constitutional Law's Rise: Three Roads Not Taken 196

8 Earl Warren's Errors 216

9 The Rise and Fall of Crime, the Fall and Rise of Criminal Punishment 244

III The Future 283

10 Fixing a Broken System 285

Epilogue: Taming the Wolf 310

Note on Sources and Citation Form 315

Notes 317

Acknowledgments 395

Index 399

What People are Saying About This

Lincoln Caplan

The capstone to the career of one of the most influential legal scholars of the past generation.
Lincoln Caplan, New York Times

David Alan Sklansky

Bill Stuntz was our leading scholar of criminal procedure. Stuntz argues that much of what we think about American criminal justice is wrong. The system is neither too lenient nor too punitive, but too prone to both extremes, and the extremism is caused by too little democracy. Sweeping, learned, and bracingly original, Stuntz's crowning achievement is a wonderful book.
David Alan Sklansky, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley

Louis H. Pollak

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice is a searching--and profoundly disturbing--examination of American criminal law in action. William Stuntz's posthumous study establishes that our main achievement has been the incarceration of millions, and in the process we have given short shrift to the minimal objectives of a democratic legal order--fairness and equality. This is a masterful work.

Louis H. Pollak, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Paul Butler

Smart and surprisingly provocative, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice is an instant classic. Stuntz sets aside the conventional wisdom and offers freshand paradigm shiftinganalysis of crime, punishment, and politics. Every prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and law maker in the country should take Stuntz's powerful insights to heart. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice is indeed the achievement of a lifetime.

Paul Butler, author of Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice

James Q. Whitman

This is a brilliant book by a supremely decent man. A great scholarly mind from the world of small towns, Stuntz has unique and profound insights into the perverse effects of centralized control of the criminal process of modern America. His vision of a better, more humane, more local justice offers more hope than the work of any scholar I know.
James Q. Whitman, Yale Law School

Nicola Lacey

Bill Stuntz brought humanity, passion, and a broad intellectual vision to the study of criminal justice. His book tells the compelling story of the injustices created by the rise of discretionary power, the resurgence of discrimination and the impoverishment of local democracy. His analysis has implications beyond the shores of the USA; and helps us to see where a more hopeful future might lie.
Nicola Lacey, All Souls College, Oxford

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