How American Justice Went Wrong

Lack of jury trials at heart of the problem: Harvard law prof
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 25, 2011 4:29 PM CDT
How American Justice System Collapsed: Harvard Law Professor
Harvard law professor William J. Stuntz argues for changes in the US justice system in his new book, "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice."   (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

The American criminal justice system is collapsing, right? So says Harvard law professor William J. Stuntz in a new book excerpted in Salon. His evidence: a soaring prison population, high murder rates, and whites who avoid prison while blacks serve time. The problem: too much power in the hands of mucky-mucks, too little in the people. "Those who bear the costs of crime and punishment alike must exercise more power over those who enforce the law and dole out punishment," he argues.

Stuntz bemoans prosecutors' tendency to nail crooks on easy-to-prove drug possession charges. Defendants then plea-bargain, and an assistant DA picks a punishment that's often light on whites, severe on blacks. Soon black voters turn cynical and lose interest in voting for new prosecutors and judges. Solutions? "A revival of the ideal of equal protection of the laws," argues Stuntz, and "more jury trials in order to give local citizens—not just prosecutors—the power to decide who merits punishment and who doesn't." (If Casey Anthony is proof of a system gone wrong, check out her latest move.)

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