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Legally Speaking


Issue: December, 2009
Author: Becket Hinckley

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BOOK REVIEW: The Criminal Justice Club: A Career Prosecutor Takes on the Media – and More

“[A Prosecutor] is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor – indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935) (bracketed material added)

Strap on your helmet! Buckle up! Brace yourself for a collision with reality like you have never experienced before with the complicated, confusing, and sometimes confounding criminal justice system. Walt Lewis puts the criminal justice system on trial and takes dead aim at the media for sometimes subtly and sometimes flagrantly misleading the public about the criminal justice system.

Walt Lewis started as a young ACLU liberal who dropped out of high school believing the often biased mainstream media and always sympathizing with the criminal. He transformed, slowly, and as he admits at times uncomfortably, as his media-created myths gave way to reality in light of his experiences into a life-long career (32 years) prosecutor. Mr. Lewis is now a staunch advocate for crime victims and longer sentences for violent and career criminals. This book is a story about his life as a prosecutor and it is a candid look into the belly of the criminal justice beast.

Mr. Lewis ably takes the reader through his many courtroom experiences and prosecutorial “war stories” by revealing startling facts about the criminal justice system, facts that are unknown to most of the public. Examples include:

  • How more people have been murdered in this country between 1960 and 2003 than all the Americans killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan --- COMBINED;

  • Between 1960 and 2002, there were an estimated 200,000 unsolved murders in the United States and it grows by about 6,000+ murders each year;

  • reported serious crime leading to a prison sentence for the perpetrator are about 5%, which is about the national average;

  • Why California, for 13 years, paid its 58 counties $4,000 for each convicted felon who was not sentenced to prison (the Probation Subsidy Act), thus avoiding having to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new prisons;

  • The real reason California's death row inmates wait about 20 years from conviction to execution--while the delay in other states is far less;

  • The lack of truth in sentencing: how little prison time convicted criminals really serve for felony crimes around the country. The median prison term actually served by convicted murderers in the United States in 2001 was a little under nine years --- up from 5 1/2 years in 1988; and

  • How the media often imply that politicians and law enforcement leaders who speak out about the 630,000 illegal aliens that enter our nation's jails and prisons each year for crimes they have committed have some ulterior motive.

The Criminal Justice Club also:

  • Takes sharp aim at whether career criminals really suffer from low self-esteem; and

  • Answers the question so often asked of criminal defense attorneys: How can you defend a person charged with murder, rape or child molestation when you believe, or know, your client is guilty?

  • More importantly, Lewis details how the criminal justice system REALLY works.

As I was reading this book, I was rudely and routinely reminded about how the system and profession in which I have chosen to participate, is overwhelmed and misunderstood. Sadly, my experiences as a Deputy District Attorney in Laramie County inform me that a lot of what Mr. Lewis writes about the California criminal justice system is true in little ‘ole Wyoming. I also suspect that it would apply to any criminal justice system anywhere in the United States. Mr. Lewis has a provocative vision for a more honest, fair and unbiased media and for voters to demand from their elected leaders that all violent and career criminals (including non-violent criminals) not be released repeatedly through the revolving doors of our prison system after short periods of incarceration. Lawyers and non- lawyers alike, of all color and stripes, might want to take the time and energy to look through the spectacles of a career prosecutor who doesn’t withhold punches on the foibles of our criminal justice system. It might be discouraging or depressing ride at times but one won’t be disappointed by cracking the spine on this book.

Becket Hinckley earned a B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University in 1993 and his J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 2000. He is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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