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Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor

Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor

Hardback

By (author) Angela J. Davis

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Paperback $20.48
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 264 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 236mm x 25mm | 499g
  • Publication date: 26 April 2007
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0195177363
  • ISBN 13: 9780195177367
  • Illustrations note: 2 illus.
  • Sales rank: 997,606

Product description

Inscribed on the walls of the United States Department of Justice are the lofty words: "The United States wins its point whenever justice is done its citizens in the courts." Yet what happens when prosecutors, the most powerful officials in the criminal justice system, seek convictions instead of justice? Why are cases involving educated, well-to-do victims often prosecuted more vigorously than those involving poor, uneducated victims? Why do wealthy defendants frequently enjoy more lenient plea bargains than the disadvantaged? In this timely work, Angela J. Davis examines the expanding power of prosecutors, from mandatory minimum sentencing laws that enhance prosecutorial control over the outcome of cases to the increasing politicization of the office. Drawing on her dozen years of experience as a public defender, Davis demonstrates how the everyday, legal exercise of prosecutorial discretion is responsible for tremendous inequities in criminal justice. Davis uses powerful stories of individuals caught in the system to illustrate how the day-to-day practices and decisions of well-meaning prosecutors produce unfair and unequal treatment of both defendants and victims, often along race and class lines. These disparities are particularly evident in prosecutors' charging and plea-bargaining decisions and in their muddy relationships with victims. Prosecutors not only hold vast power, Davis argues, but they are also under-regulated and lack accountability. The current standards of practice for prosecutors are unenforceable, while the mechanisms that purport to hold prosecutors accountable are weak and ineffectual. Not only does lack of oversight result in injustices, it may even foster a climate tolerant of unfair practices and in some cases, misconduct. Offering a sensible agenda for comprehensive review and reform, Arbitrary Justice challenges the legal community and concerned citizens to pursue and enact meaningful standards of conduct and effective methods of accountability to help prosecutors serve their communities and the interests of justice.

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Author information

Angela J. Davis is a Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law where she teaches criminal law and criminal procedure. Prior to her career as a law professor, Davis was a public defender at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia before becoming the agency's Director.

Review quote

"This book is not simply timely. It is timeless. It chronicles the expansion of prosecutorial powers and, better yet, offers a compelling set of reforms that all can agree will help to curb unnecessary abuses of power. Public officials, law enforcement, and everyday citizens will all find this book informative and accessible. It is a must read, and a phenomenal read."-Charles J. Ogletree Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor, Harvard Law School "Finally, a book by a scholar that not only describes what's really going on in the trenches-a dangerous shift in power from judges to prosecutors in sentencing and charging decisions-but provides a sensible agenda of reforms that will protect victims and defendants alike. This is a very important work."-Barry Scheck, Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and Co-Director, Innocence Project "In Arbitrary Justice, Professor Davis reveals how the primary mechanism of accountability in our democracy-elections-has failed to hold prosecutors accountable to the people they serve. She offers practical progressive ideas for reform that will improve our democracy and help to eliminate the unacceptable class and race disparities in our criminal justice system."-Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) "Angela Davis sheds searing light on the long-veiled power wielded by American prosecutors and shows that a fair criminal justice system is an illusion unless we demand transparency and equality from this oft-overlooked arena."-David Cole, author of No Equal Justice "With this book, Professor Davis throws down a gauntlet to prosecutors; some district attorneys will roar in opposition to her proposals while others, deeply concerned with equal justice, will take to heart her trenchant observations on racial issues in the prosecutor's office and will carefully consider her proposals for needed reforms."-E. Michael McCann, former Milwaukee County District Attorney