A veteran public-defense lawyer offers candid insight into what he characterizes as a pervasively brutal and capricious criminal-justice system.
Feige, a Court TV talking head and former Trial Chief of the Bronx Defenders, knows his way around that New York borough’s notorious criminal courthouse. There he represented the frequently handcuffed, never cuff-linked. They were street people, predators from the projects, crack-dealers, wife-beaters, turnstile-jumpers, hustlers and killers. And they were seldom innocent. The author was fond of them all and viewed himself as their last hope against an incomprehensible judiciary system. He was less happy with vicious assistant district attorneys, and he detested judges who often prejudged and punished before hearing either the defense or the prosecution. Feige’s text, loosely framed on a representative long work day, explains how to use an autopsy report or a rap sheet. He teaches the art of investigation, the mechanics of drug busts and the hard truth that, when the police interrogate, the police always win. The author demonstrates the skill required in plea-bargaining, in which a price is negotiated for every crime and why “motion practice”—the submission of heaps of paper so assiduously practiced by private white-shoe litigators—is a different matter for the Bronx Defenders, who must react quickly to cycle through a constant deluge of cases. And he introduces some of his clients, each of whom he fully humanizes, caught in the wheels of the Department of Corrections. Feige will convince readers that whether guilty or innocent—especially innocent—it is always best to plea-bargain rather than fight.
A vibrant, smart, authentic story of a special sort of heroics in which one lawyer does the best he can in a dysfunctional system that too often links “miscarriage” with “justice.”