GUILTY: The Collapse of Criminal Justice by Harold J. Rothwax

GUILTY: The Collapse of Criminal Justice

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A frustrated New York State Supreme Court justice argues that the criminal justice system has forsaken the search for truth in favor of legal gamesmanship; his book, however, is a better example of the latter. Rothwax fulminates against higher court rulings on a broad range of issues: the exclusionary rule, under which evidence illegally obtained by the police is excluded from the jury's consideration; the Miranda requirement that police inform suspects of their rights; the right to an attorney during pre-trial investigation; speedy trial statutes; even the Fifth Amendment. His method in each case is to present horror stories of criminals ""set free"" on account of ""technicalities,"" i.e., long-standing interpretations of the Bill of Rights (although he overlooks the fact that the norm in such cases is for an appellate court to order a new trial based on its instructions). The judge proceeds to declare the results absurd, rarely bothering to examine more than cursorily the thinking behind those decisions. Reasonable minds may, of course, differ on any of these matters; reasonable minds exposed only to Rothwax's analysis would, however, be pretty much ignorant of the opposing arguments even in matters, such as the extension of the exclusionary rule to the states, that conservative courts have accepted for years. His solution for the ambiguity he sees in current law is greater scope for the trial judge to determine the overall ""reasonableness"" of police conduct; that this will reduce reversals on appeal is at least dubious. His attitude that police should be freer to follow their guts in pursuit of people they just know are guilty ignores the persistence of evidence-manufacturing scandals in his and other cities. Readers who wish to be outraged should enjoy this polemic, but Rothwax offers little to those who seek a better understanding of the questions that he so provocatively raises.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random