cover image The Districts: Stories of American Justice from the Federal Courts

The Districts: Stories of American Justice from the Federal Courts

Johnny Dwyer. Knopf, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-94654-1

Journalist Dwyer (American Warlord) delivers a character-driven examination of New York City’s federal courts and the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors who make them run. His case studies, which are organized around the five “major categories of crime” (organized crime, drug trafficking, financial fraud, terrorism, and public corruption) prosecuted in Manhattan’s Southern District and Brooklyn’s Eastern District, mention such high-profile investigations as that of New York State assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who was convicted in 2018 on corruption charges, and Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to multiple crimes the same year. For the most part, however, Dwyer features defendants who aren’t household names. Among the most illuminating cases are those of Chevelle Nesbeth, an accused drug courier, and Imran Rabbani, a 17-year-old charged with attempting to support the Islamic State. Both trials hinge on legal nuances and showcase federal prosecutors and judges grappling with a defendant’s past, present, and potential future when making charging and sentencing decisions. Along the way, Dwyer also skillfully explains complex federal statutes, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and traces shifting definitions of what constitutes criminal conduct in insider trading cases. Ultimately, he leaves it up to readers to decide whether justice is being served, but his balanced, sympathetic account demystifies and humanizes the criminal justice system. (Oct.)