Ordinary Injustice How America Holds Court

Amy Bach




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Winner of The Robert F. Kennedy Book Award

Attorney and journalist Amy Bach spent eight years investigating the widespread courtroom failures that each day upend lives across America. There, she observed professionals working in the system who, however well intentioned, cannot see the harm they are doing to the people they serve. There is a public defender pleads most of his clients guilty with scant knowledge about their circumstances; a judge who sets outrageous bail for negligible crimes; a prosecutor who habitually declines to pursue significant cases; a court that works together to achieve a wrongful conviction.

In an inquiry that moves from small-town Georgia to upstate New York, from Mississippi to Chicago, Ordinary Injustice shows the consequences that result when communities mistake the rules that lawyers play by for the rule of law. Amy Bach goes beyond the usual explanations of bad apples and meager funding to reveal a clubby legal culture of compromise. She exposes an assembly-line approach to justice that rewards mediocre advocacy, bypasses due process, and shortchanges both defendants and victims to keep the court calendar moving. It is time, Bach argues, to institute a new method of checks and balances that will make injustice visible—the first and necessary step to reform.

With human stories, sharp analysis, and a sense of urgency, Ordinary Injustice is a major reassessment of the health of the nation's courtrooms.


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I didn't know I was going to jail," I heard a defendant say as she stood before the judge in Greene County, Georgia. Of course she didn't. No one had told her the consequences of pleading guilty. Most people, educated or not, often have no idea what a guilty plea actually means: the conviction of a crime that subjects them to incarceration, fines, probation, a criminal record with unforeseen future consequences. Many do not even know that a guilty plea is not mandatory or that an appeal after conviction at trial is possible, even though a judge is

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  • Amy Bach

  • Amy Bach, a member of the New York bar, has written on law for The Nation, The American Lawyer, and New York magazine, among other publications. For her work in progress on Ordinary Injustice, Bach received a Soros Media Fellowship, a special J. Anthony Lukas citation, and a Radcliffe Fellowship. She lives in Rochester, New York, where she taught legal studies at the University of Rochester.

  • Amy Bach