Why the Innocent Plead Guilty and the Guilty Go Free: And Other Paradoxes of Our Broken Legal System

Jed S. Rakoff. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-0-374-28999-7
Federal judge Rakoff debuts with an excoriating and exceptionally knowledgeable analysis of flaws in the U.S. justice system. Federal and state prosecutors, Rakoff argues, have used the threat of harsh mandatory minimum sentences to weaponize plea bargaining, contributing to the “scourge” of mass incarceration and creating a “secret and government-dictated” criminal justice system that is “inconsistent with our constitutional notions of fair play.” In the few cases that do go to trial, prosecutors present dubious testimony from eyewitnesses and forensic experts, according to Rakoff, who cites a 2015 Department of Justice report concluding that FBI examiners gave “scientifically invalid testimony” in more than 95% of cases where microscopic hair analysis was used to establish a defendant’s guilt. Rakoff also condemns the justice system for failing to go after corporate wrongdoers, and faults the Supreme Court for being too deferential to the executive branch. His solutions include prosecuting business executives for fraud, rather than imposing fines on their companies, and repealing sentencing guidelines passed in the 1970s and ’80s. Rakoff builds his case with precise evidence and clear intent. The result is a persuasive and practicable call for reform. Agent: Chris Calhoun, Chris Calhoun Agency. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 10/07/2020
Release date: 02/16/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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