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”Courtroom 302” by Steve Bogira

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 675
  • Category: Books

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Injustice permeates the justice system.  That notion and perception that are often derived from movies, fictional novels or even the news have become so common and well accepted that society had taken for granted its repercussive impact to the very essence of civil governance and which have often been reduced for its entertainment value.  Courtroom 302 is a book that demonstrated that blatant injustice within the justice system neither by thorough investigation or extensive research but by a purely descriptive narration of the unspoken realities in the court cases, proceedings and daily operations of one of the busiest courtrooms in Chicago, the Cook County Criminal Courthouse.

The sheer volume of cases that the court handles on a daily basis already undermines the possibility of achieving justice.  Much like a business in which the mass production of commodities standardizes the operating procedures, the main function of the courthouse in dispensing justice is to dispose of cases in the quickest and cheapest possible manner.   A guilty plea especially for a poor defendant is the highly recommended strategy to save everybody the time, effort and money for a jury trial especially considering the scarce resources of the justice system.  ‘Let’s go, let’s get this over with and move on to the next thing.” (Bogira, 2005) The court operates to make a mass production of justice.

In describing the different cases during the course of his one year of observation, Bogira laid bare on the meandering influences of wealth, power, racial discrimination and media publicity, among others in the achievement of justice. A highly sensationalized case for instance that catches media attention is an opportunity for fame and career growth.   While the unknown cases forms part of justice statistics.   Thus, the Bogira’s focus to look into unknown cases is the best way to discern the general truth behind the justice system.

The central figure of the book, Judge Daniel Locallo, represents the myopia that pervades through other characters i.e. police, lawyers, etc in the cases.  While he often dispenses cases purely from its merits, he often pays inattention or inconsideration to expert testimonies or opinions.  He is a strong advocate of the classical theory of crime which suggested that the commission of crime is ultimately a choice. (Burke 2005)  In making decisions, it showed that his main consideration is the victim (background and status), thus focusing on the retributive function of punishment rather than its reformative purpose for the defendant.

In a more comprehensive analysis, the book reflects on the larger issues that influence the criminal justice system in the US. While the author provided insights on major issues such as police brutality and coercion and racial bigotry in the establishment of a jury, among others, the book also insinuates how the justice system per se partakes in the perpetuation of criminality in society.  While the legal and justice system was established to prevent and punish criminality, the system itself is guilty of injustice which in turn can breed criminality.  The system does not focus on the reformative or rehabilitative feature of justice.

Instead it provides a negative impact among criminals and reinforces their detachment or alienation from conventional society.  Being part of society, the justice system contributes to oppression, inequality or maltreatment that some members of society perceived and that which forces them to form independent subgroups or subcultures that have their own set of rules and values, often defiant to the system or to general society (cultural deviance theory) (Merton, R. 1957).  Thus, modern civilization’s inclination to depend on the justice system as the cure to the problems of society blindly disregards that the same system contributes in creating those problems it wishes to address.


Bogira, S. (2005) Court Room 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse. A. Knopf Publications.

Burke, Roger Hopkins (2005). ‘An Introduction to Criminological Theory’. Willan Publishing

Merton, R. (1957). ‘Social Theory and Social Structure’. New York: the Free Press

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