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Getting Away With Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Susan Estrich
Date Published
161 pages
In critiquing the operation of America's criminal justice system, this book examines how politics has corrupted criminal law in America.
The first chapter argues that criminal law depends for its authority on the possibility of political compromise and consensus. It notes that having a plethora of standards for culpability in the killing of another human -- what the public thinks of as "abuse excuses" -- is the wrong answer to just demands for equality, but it is the answer that a mistrustful and divided society will inevitably produce. The logical extreme of the argument for "abuse excuses," sympathy defenses, and other forms of group-based entitlement is that only "hit" men are murderers. Everyone else, judged by the standards of self-defined cultural or abuse group, is justifiably and uncontrollably responding to the perpetrator of their abusive victimization. Chapter 2 focuses on group-based jury nullification, which, the author argues, is the wrong answer to the biases of the criminal justice system. There is no denying that the system is racist, says the author, but to go beyond process and standards and use the power of juries to nullify the law in a particular case to send a message about racism can only widen political divisions, increase crime, and undermine the rule of law. Chapter 3 examines the most overt form of the politics of crime, that is, politicians who compete with one another to prove who is toughest on criminals, legislatures that pass severe but unenforceable laws, and judges who are blamed when the laws prove to be unworkable. Chapter 4 addresses lawyers and the intersection between professionalism and politics. It considers how far a criminal defense attorney should go in defending a client. A 286- item bibliography, chapter notes, a list of cases, and a subject index