Today, Paul Cassell has a review of the book in the WSJ. From Cassell's review, the book may be better than one would infer from its unfortunate title.
Perhaps aware that "collapse" in the book's title requires justification, Mr. Stuntz begins by reviewing some statistics. As he shows, in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, amid the largest crime wave in American history, the U.S. prison population declined. Imprisonment rates plummeted to some of the lowest ever seen in the modern Western world. High-crime neighborhoods, as Mr. Stuntz puts it, were "abandoned to their fate."* * *Mr. Stuntz readily acknowledges what many legal scholars do not: America's current lock-'em-up philosophy has dramatically helped to reduce urban crime.... Even so, Mr. Stuntz counts these declines as a pyrrhic victory, given that violence per capita in the U.S. today remains significantly higher than in 1950.
Mr. Stuntz powerfully argues that [Warren Court procedural] decisions have perversely worsened inequality in the criminal-justice system. The Miranda rule, for example, gives sophisticated suspects--mainly recidivists and white-collar defendants--the ability to "lawyer up" and avoid questioning altogether. Many other suspects--including the innocent but poor--waive their rights and receive less protection than they did before Miranda.
These excessive procedures contributed to a new punitiveness in criminal sentencing, Mr. Stuntz says. With fewer violent criminals successfully prosecuted under Warren-court restrictions, those who are convicted are incarcerated longer. And because of the difficulty of finding witnesses willing to testify against gang members and other violent criminals, easily proven "surrogate" crimes (namely, drug possession) are punished more harshly.
"The Collapse of American Criminal Justice" concludes that our system suffers "from the rule of too much law and the wrong kind of politics." Mr. Stuntz recommends a host of reforms, including decentralization that would encourage local control responsive to local crime. He also argues for expanding city police forces--because the increased police presence would discourage the commission of crimes.
But he seems to back away from his argument that excessive proceduralism is part of the problem. While critiquing decisions such as Mapp and Miranda, Mr. Stuntz never urges that they be overturned or restructured, even though such changes could lead to the decentralized decision-making that he supports. Instead, he singles out for overruling Supreme Court precedents limiting equal-protection argument by defendants. He targets United States v. Armstrong, for example, which barred drug dealers from arguing that prosecutors must be racially discriminating when statistics indicate disparities in charges being brought. But overturning the law would lead to precisely the kind of procedural litigation that Mr. Stuntz deplores.
Nonetheless, the overarching themes of "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice" deserve wide discussion, and the book as a whole can be rightly seen as the capstone to a distinguished legal career. Americans may debate whether our criminal-justice system has truly collapsed, but few would argue that it can't be improved.
I have a lot of respect for Paul's judgment. If he says the book is worth reading and discussing, then it surely is.