[FREE] Getting Away With Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System


Susan Estrich


Justice isn’t blind. It’s winking. This is the message Americans get when, against the weight of overwhelming evidence, high-profile suspects go free; when there are special sentencing rules for battered wives or adult survivors of childhood abuse; when murderers are released from prison to rape and murder again, and politicians make political hay out of these cases; when lawyers look less like servants of higher values and more like profit seekers reaping fortunes by helping clients get away with murder. This book is a penetrating look into what’s wrong with the American legal system, a devastating critique of how politics has corrupted criminal law in America.

Written with clarity and simplicity, Getting Away with Murder is a lesson in how the law works and a blueprint for how it should work. Susan Estrich takes on the enflamed issues, from the O. J. Simpson trial to three strikes legislation, but pushes well beyond the soundbite answers. Drawing on her background as a lawyer, political commentator, professor, and national campaign manager for Michael Dukakis, she brings academic expertise and political experience together in a way that very few people can. 

In particular, Estrich argues that group-based jury nullification, like group-based abuse excuses, is precisely the wrong answer to the biases of the criminal justice system. Getting Away with Murder also views this system in the wider political arena, where fiascoes like the Willie Horton case stifle political debate and promote policies that tie the hands of judges in dealing with dangerous offenders. Lawyers do not escape Estrich’s notice; she directs some of her most pointed remarks at the failure of the legal profession to tend to the ethical duties and legal values that it professes.

At a time when three quarters of black Americans believe that the criminal justice system is racist and unfair; when nearly half of all whites think it’s ineffective and in decline; when crime, though falling, still tops the list of public concerns, and politicians exploit public distrust of the system to get elected, Getting Away with Murder makes a statement that is powerful, controversial, and urgently needed.


Don’t be fooled by the subtitle of this smart and lively book: Susan Estrich is not against politics in our criminal justice system, but for it. Indeed, she thinks some sort of politics is inevitable, so the key question about, say, criminal juries is not whether they should do politics, but how. What is destroying the system, Estrich says, is a ‘separatist,’ ‘balkanized’ and ‘dishonest’ politics. In its place, she summons up a vision of a unifying politics, focusing not on what tears Americans apart but on what brings us together…She delivers an impressive product–a broad critique of the current system and a road map for reform built on faith in the common sense of common people. (Akhil Reed Amar New York Times Book Review)

[Reading this book] is like being…at a dinner party [with a] scintillating legal expert overflowing with enthusiasm and insights into virtually every topic within [her] field of expertise. From the trials of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers to the insanity defense, battered wives syndrome, [and] Willie Horton…[Estrich] renders one clever, thought-provoking opinion after another–each connected to [her] personal philosophy of law…Focussing particularly on the criminal law process, Getting Away with Murder describes a system that has become a forum for indulging our deepest social divisions–‘a lowest common denominator search for false equality’–rather than a place for restoring the ties of trust and good faith that ought to bind up our ever more diverse society…These days, the emperor of law may have been reduced to his undergarments. But the nation will be [well] served following Estrich’s attempt to reclothe him in all the finery we can muster. (Edward Lazarus L.A. Times)

In this short, lively and spirited book, Ms. Estrich tries to reestablish for the average reader the enormous importance that the law attaches to the ‘reasonable person.’ It is by the standards of that person that we judge the motives of criminals and the circumstances they confront…If you wish a stimulating introduction to this problem [of corruption in the U.S. legal system], her book is a good place to start. (James Q. Wilson Washington Times)

Book Details

  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003B675SK


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