Book Review: William J. Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 62, p. 377, 2012
11 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2013
Date Written: November 1, 2012
One of the better ways to celebrate next year’s fiftieth anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Supreme Court held that poor defendants accused of felonies in state court are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel, would be to force every lawmaker, judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney in the United States to read the last major work of a man who believed the legacy of Gideon is not an unequivocally positive one. In The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, the late Bill Stuntz argues that the cure for the pathologies of the criminal justice system lies in restoring local democratic control over crime policy, better funding public defenders, and buttressing equal protection doctrine, rather than in the continued focus on the “vast network of procedural rules the Supreme Court has crafted since the early 1960s." Stuntz argues that the fetishization of so many formalistic procedures that, in his view, at best indirectly ensure fairness of trial and sentencing outcomes has rendered trials too expensive, which in turn has driven prosecutors and lawmakers to seek ways to avoid trial and force pleas through draconian sentencing schemes, a skewed focus on easily detected urban drug crimes mostly committed by racial minorities, and ever-expanding substantive criminal law. The result of this assembly-line justice, Stuntz argues, is both excessive punitiveness in the form of racially disparate mass incarceration and excessive leniency in the form of underprosecuted violent crime in poor communities.
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