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October 01, 2023 Book Review

Recent Reads

Jolie Zangari

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

Professional Practice/Nonfiction
Stephen B. Bright and James Kwak, Authors (The New Press)

Written by the legendary death penalty defense attorney Stephen B. Bright and legal scholar James Kwak, this book brings to light the most significant injustices that have occurred in the American criminal justice system in a clear and unavoidable manner—for example, shocking portrayals of innocent people being sentenced to death, racial discrimination in jury selection, prosecutors with too much power, lack of treatment for people with mental disorders, and the lack of adequate legal representation for those unable to afford counsel, with details that should astonish us all, yet are the truthful accounts of what transpired in these cases. While this book is a heartbreaking description of the injustices that have occurred, these expert-in-the-field authors remain hopeful in the pursuit of consequential change for the better and fairer treatment of those among us accused of criminal offenses. In addition to the declining use of the death penalty, establishment of conviction integrity units, and increasing awareness of and access to treatment for defendants with mental health issues, the authors offer additional practical ways to promote justice, fairness, and equality within the criminal justice system in our country.

A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays

Marc Bookman, Author (The New Press)

Death penalty cases continue to fascinate people around our modern world, despite it being a most primitive and archaic criminal sentence. It is not just those of us who have practiced criminal law who are captivated by this punishment, but also anyone who may be even slightly interested in any of the following: life and death, fear, revenge, fairness, and the sometimes-vague concept of justice. Journalist and veteran death penalty defense attorney Marc Bookman delivers a collection of essays about seemingly ordinary death penalty cases, but which highlight the extraordinarily absurd or atrocious injustices that have been long associated with the use of capital punishment in American history. When some cases become sensationalized in the media and befit everyone’s topic of conversation, the problem is that people begin to believe they must be anomalies and that the enforcement of capital punishment must be otherwise fair. However, as previously mentioned, the cases in this book are ordinary, and have not been broadcast in mainstream media or on social media, but blatant unfairness and cruelty are woven into them and have taken on a pattern-like structure. These are the cases we must be aware of, and Marc Bookman delivers them in the most eloquent manner, with touches of irony and wit that make it bearable to read about such unsettling cases.

A Killer by Design: Murders, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind

Ann Wolbert Burgess and Steven Matthew Constantine, Authors (Hatchett Books)

The astonishing biography of Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, a psychiatric nurse who helped expand the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, and whose brilliance and determination paved the way to solving serial sexual assault and homicide cases across the United States. Burgess’s notoriety began in the 1970s with the publishing of her groundbreaking research that concluded that sexual offenses are committed more so because of an offender’s desire for power and control, rather than simply to engage in the act of sex. Coupled with the simultaneous increase of sexual offenses across the nation at that time, the FBI requested Burgess’s expertise in creating a training program consisting of behavioral characteristics, data, and motives on sexual assault and homicide patterns to understand, investigate, and solve these antagonizing cases. Although the cases are disturbing and upsetting, this book is filled with Burgess’s vivid recollections of investigations, never-before-released transcripts and photographs of actual cases, and expertise so all those who are interested can begin to understand the complex nature of human beings who rape and kill, and how they can be stopped.

I Have Some Questions for You

Rebecca Makkai, Author (Penguin)

Quite the opposite of a fast-paced explosive thriller, this literary novel is more like a simmering slow-burn through an intricate, twisty maze. The now-adult characters were forever linked together during their teenage years spent at a New Hampshire boarding school, the site where their classmate was brutally murdered during her senior year. The school’s athletic trainer was ultimately convicted of the murder; however, the integrity of that investigation and conviction becomes the focal point of the novel. With themes also including sexual assault, illicit drug use, racism, reliability of memories, the effects of social media, and the #MeToo movement, this multifaceted novel navigates various subplots all the while trying to find or confirm the actual killer. The protagonist, with a tragic and troubled past of her own, seems to hold secret details regarding the murder and becomes increasingly convinced she can prove that the athletic trainer was wrongfully convicted. While the storylines simmer throughout, the pace quickens as a probable suspect comes to light, with the boiling point being when the new suspect is finally faced with the statement posed in the book’s title: I Have Some Questions for You.

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Jolie Zangari

SUNY Nassau Community College

Jolie Zangari is a former prosecutor from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a full-time faculty member of the Criminal Justice Department of SUNY Nassau Community College.