Fact Therapy

The Collapse of American Criminal Justice
William J. Stuntz
Belknap, $35, 413 pp.

It is often said that facts are revolutionary. With their power to burn off the ideological mists that obscure our political vision, and to remind us of the unanticipated and sometimes negative consequences of our most well-meaning actions, facts can shake our views on matters great and small, dishing out intellectual therapy to the benighted and the bemused.

The legal scholar William Stuntz, who died last year of cancer at fifty-two, was a master practitioner of this brand of therapy, filling his writings with counterintuitive observations in order to lay bare the weaknesses of a legal system he viewed as deeply flawed. To his scholarship he brought intellectual integrity, a profound sense of justice, and vision. His final book, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, crowns an intellectual career that very few have equaled.

Like much of Stuntz’s previous work, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice focuses on historical analysis, the nature of systemic decision-making, and the unintended consequences of decisions—arguing, for instance, that landmark Supreme Court criminal-law decisions of the liberal Warren era, such as Mapp and Miranda, ended up harming those they were supposed to protect, as states responded by enacting harsh sentencing laws, more expansive criminal statutes, and stepped-up enforcement that boosted inequalities in conviction and punishment.

Stuntz’s larger brief is that over-...

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About the Author

Paulo Barrozo is an assistant professor at Boston College Law School.