My good friend Stephanos Bibas, a criminal law and sentencing scholar at UPenn, recently penned an important book tackling the always weighty issue of how criminal justice is administered, entitled "The Machinery of Criminal Justice." As his abstract explains:
Two centuries ago the criminal justice system was primarily run by laymen. In court, victims and defendants interacted face to face while lay jurors from the community sat in judgment. Jury trials passed moral judgment on crimes, vindicated victims and innocent defendants, denounced guilty defendants, and reconciled and healed wounded relationships. But over the last two centuries, lawyers have taken over the process, silencing victims and defendants and, in many cases, substituting a plea-bargaining system for voice of the jury. This lawyerized machinery has purchased efficient, speedy processing of many cases at the price of sacrificing softer values, such as reforming defendants and healing wounded victims and relationships. In other words, the U.S. legal system has bought quantity at the price of quality, without recognizing either the trade-off or the great gulf separating lawyers' and laymen's incentives, interests, values, and powers. This book explores these trends and considers how criminal justice could better accommodate lay participation, values, and relationships.
Laudably, this book has gotten a lot of attention in the scholarly and public realms. In the current issue of the Harvard Law Review, Professor Nicola Lacey reviews the book, criticising Bibas's decision not to explore the "expanding scope of the criminal law" and do more comparative analysis, as well as faulting his promotion of a "false vision of a village idea:"
Professor Bibas responds, arguing, among other things, that the current American landscape challenges us to build consensus at the neighborhood or local level, and to narrow criminal enforcement to those policies that can command broad support :
Whatever your take, it is well-worth your time to read the book and the two reviews, whether you are a prosecutor or criminal defender, a criminal law scholar, a lawyer, or simply a member of the general public who wants to know what's really going on in the criminal justice system.
And if you just can't get enough, here's the link to Professor Bibas's recent star turn on C-SPAN discussing these very issues. Fascinating!