The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Courts

Book Reviews

The Fear of Too Much JusticeThe Fear of Too Much Justice is an incisive, thoroughly researched, and ultimately devastating critique of the American criminal justice system. In each chapter, the authors marshal statistics and case studies to show how the system — from arrest to trial to prison and beyond — dispenses anything but blind justice. The book is a damning indictment and a must-read for lawyers and nonlawyers alike.

Perhaps the most shocking takeaway is the seeming deliberateness and thoroughness with which the deck is stacked against the least powerful. For example, the authors explain how the poorest people often wind up paying the most for bail, fees, and probation services, which can quickly balloon to many times the original amount if not promptly paid — regardless of an individual’s ability to pay, which is often curtailed by contact with the criminal justice system. In the context of capital cases, the authors point out that the vast majority of such cases originate from a tiny handful of counties and prosecutors, mostly in the Deep South, and often along starkly racial lines. The chapter on jury selection reveals the continuing prevalence of prosecutors disproportionately removing non-white jurors, and discusses the ineffectiveness of current restrictions on that practice.

Do not expect a light, quick read. I had to put it down several times not because of the writing, which is crisp, concise, and flows, but because the truths and true stories it contains are so deeply impactful and troubling. Stephen Bright is a veteran trial lawyer, and it shows in his ability to move the reader.
While much of the book focuses on identifying and proving up the flaws in the criminal justice system, it also proposes solutions. Many seem like common sense, almost unavoidable conclusions, and yet they have not been implemented. Others may seem more radical but are worth considering. All are well thought out and based on the authors’ extensive experience.

Whatever your views on criminal law, The Fear of Too Much Justice should be on your reading list. It identifies critically important issues that deserve more public discourse, and reminds us that uncritical adoption of the status quo brings along the baggage of the past.

Corey Brady practices at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Miami.