Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's the Law

Humanity of Justice

I have created a separate page for reviews but this book by Burke E. Strunsky is worth a Post (since I have recently discovered the difference between the two on Blogger).

The author makes a passionate plea for improvement in the American criminal justice system.  He believes fervently that it works and requires only a little fine tuning.  In making this case, he shows a fine eye for the details of marriages growing stale, the horror of child molestation, the paranoid public mind-set that allows for children to accuse adults of this, the fine lines that must be made and perhaps crossed in the pursuit of justice, as for example in the case of the application of the death penalty in California, or of "clergy-penitent" privilege, and the practical difference between the right to bear arms and the too easy access to a hand-gun when in a moment of "diminished capacity" or extreme rage.

The examples are told with great power of description and characterization; the case histories have provided for the often twisting and unexpected plots.  But ultimately this is an attempt to explain; it is non-fiction written powerfully. Except that it does not persuade.

It is not for lack of passion.  Perhaps a reader might be persuaded that the American judicial system works and needs only a few tweaks with better argument, more organized reasoning.  In the end, this reviewer is not persuaded that lawyers and the legal system is about justice.  The author quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes who might have the last word on this.  He famously told Felix Frankfurter on his way to the Supreme Court that he/Felix would not go to uphold Justice but to uphold the Law.   That is, as lawyers like to say, the gravamen of the issue.  Additionally, it will not be so easy to regain the public trust in the system as the author passionately desires; it will, alas, be impossible to cure the system of its apparent indifference to human tragedy.

But it is bracing to read this book.  The author is one lawyer that has not given up.  Perhaps he will continue to campaign for limitations on handguns, reduction of truancy, more and better resources to be provided to Child Protective Services.  Perhaps, more law-makers will read his book and be persuaded to a similar approach towards the Law.

Four stars out of five

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