Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law
Now more than ever, with our nation in a state of division, Doing Justice is an imperative read. It teaches rational thought, grounded empathy, ordinary resourcefulness, and hopeful change. Preet Bharara’s book offers more than the reputable experiences and brilliant mind of a powerful, accomplished United States attorney in one of the most momentous federal districts of the country. It champions a moral duty at all social levels — not only in legal practice, but for all individuals seeking justice in their lives.
The book is broken into four sections, comparable for most attorneys as the phases of a case. Part I is “Inquiry,” which discusses the necessary degree of investigation on an issue. Part II, “Accusation,” centers on the courage of taking a stand or walking away. Part III, “Judgment,” explores proving a position. “Punishment,” the fourth and final part, questions the balance between satisfactory sentencing and basic human decency. The sections use criminal law components of prosecutorial proceedings as a framework. But the themes of each part apply to any situation prompting fairness in judgment. Written with a witty tone, but imparted with concise logic, they are digestible and conveyed in clear, unassuming language.
Doing Justice provides a checklist for ethical lawyering. As expected, it praises hard work and intelligence. But it emphasizes something lacking in daily practice: balance. It suggests that the search for truth and justice is stronger when both sides keep open minds and grant the respect of being heard and validated. The book reminds the reader that we — as lawyers, as humans — have a duty to acknowledge fallibility and consider our limitations. It challenges advocates and decisionmakers to stay innovative and variable. It calls on us to constantly question clients, opponents, and ourselves, even after resolution. Meaningfully, it urges readers to dispute presented facts and ingrained beliefs at all stages of judgment.
Using real-life examples to get his points across, Bharara details controversial and high-profile cases to engage the reader. He describes the character and values of significant individuals (rather than their accolades and prestige) and their impact on these cases. He poses difficult questions of respect: to whom is it owed and when is it earned? Most importantly, he does not preach outright political or moral views. Instead, Bharara contrasts situations with human qualities. He offers observations, allowing the reader to internalize them slowly as the book progresses. By doing so, he cleverly reinforces one of the main themes of the book: The law is only as fair as the people who drive it. By the end, the book charges the responsibility of doing justice with the reader.
Doing Justice invites the reader to apply human sentiment in decisionmaking, sometimes as a sword and other times a shield. It comes to define the “scales of justice” not as a legal system, but as a function of the humans who operate it. As relevant now as ever, he quotes Cathy Watkins, a woman wrongfully convicted due to human failure to reconsider evidence: “One person can make a difference. Let that difference start with you.”
Melissa Scott of Ft. Lauderdale is a member of The Florida Bar.