On one of my mailing lists, grip a woman asked for readings about the frailties of the criminal justice system. Her query prompted me to describe two books, pilule one I’ve read, drugs and one I’m reading.

The first is Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle. In 1920s Detroit, a black family moved into a white neighborhood. Whites gathered threateningly in front of the house, shots were fired from inside, and two white people died. The black men in the house were prosecuted. The NAACP took up the case as one of its very first cases, and brought Clarence Darrow in to do the defense. The details of Darrow’s questioning of witnesses shows what a very weak tool crossexamination is against an intentional liar. That may be a good reading for the class, but the book as a whole is fascinating in its sketch of the crimal justice system as symptomatic of the times, and also in the portrayal of the early days of the NAACP.

Arc of Justice is so good that I’m surprised to be able to say that Tulia by Nate Blakeslee may be better. I’m in the middle of it right now, but it is an absolutely infuriating account of a white narcotics officer who concocted cocaine cases against the black residents of a Texas panhandle town. Forty people were charged and some received 300 year sentences for deals that never happened. The book details the economics of criminal defense in rural areas, and why and how defense attorneys failed to do even the minimal amount of investigation that would have revealed that the narc was lying. Yet, even when a good lawyer shows up, the DA and the judge simply don’t want to credit the evidence, and the rules of court allow them to keep relevant information from the jury.

Happy reading.