D.A. by Mark Baker


Prosecutors in Their Own Words
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Baker, author of half a dozen books (Bad Guys, 1996; Sex Lives; 1994, Cops, 1985; etc.) has given us the frank, often brutal views of cops and criminals on life and the criminal justice system. Here, he offers the similarly direct perspectives of prosecutors on the same subject. Baker relies on interviews with dozens of prosecutors from rural and suburban jurisdictions and big cities. Prosecutors in all settings have strikingly similar experiences: Though the majority of cases are routine, they present human nature at its worst, and prosecutors, after years of exposure to this stuff, take a grim and often cynical view of human beings (one assistant district attorney’s description of the job as “a lot like being on an assembly line” is particularly memorable). Baker probes his subjects’ outlooks on why they became prosecutors (hint: not money or prestige), the hardball trial tactics, the tremendous workloads, the often insane pressures of the job, and the enormous power that prosecutors have to transform peoples’ lives. The picture that emerges is gritty but often admirable: Baker’s subjects seem generally dedicated, mostly concerned with using their power wisely and fairly, and usually mindful of the criminal justice system’s many imperfections. But they’re human, and by interviewing members of the defense bar and judges, Baker is able to expose prosecutorial self-righteousness and pusillanimity when he finds it, with most sins coming under the rubrics of the “big head” (arrogance and abuse of the prosecutor’s discretionary power) and the “weak backbone” (caving in to political pressure). In the end, though a few of Baker’s subjects like the job well enough, most are driven to seek more sedate employment by what can only be called burnout: exhaustion, disgust with the endless parade of evil, and a desire to see good in human beings again all play their part. Stark and direct, Baker’s interviewees present a compelling, unvarnished look at the grim reality of America’s criminal justice culture.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83156-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999


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