When Law Fails

9780814740514: Hardback
Release Date: 1st January 2009

9780814740521: Paperback
Release Date: 1st January 2009

9780814762554: PDF
Release Date: 1st January 2009

Dimensions: 153 x 229

Number of Pages: 359

Series The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute Series on Race and Justice

NYU Press

When Law Fails

Making Sense of Miscarriages of Justice

Hardback / £73.00
Paperback / £22.99
PDF / £25.00

Since 1989, there have been over 200 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States. On the surface, the release of innocent people from prison could be seen as a victory for the criminal justice system: the wrong person went to jail, but the mistake was fixed and the accused set free. A closer look at miscarriages of justice, however, reveals that such errors are not aberrations but deeply revealing, common features of our legal system.
The ten original essays in When Law Fails view wrongful convictions not as random mistakes but as organic outcomes of a misshaped larger system that is rife with faulty eyewitness identifications, false confessions, biased juries, and racial discrimination. Distinguished legal thinkers Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., and Austin Sarat have assembled a stellar group of contributors who try to make sense of justice gone wrong and to answer urgent questions. Are miscarriages of justice systemic or symptomatic, or are they mostly idiosyncratic? What are the broader implications of justice gone awry for the ways we think about law? Are there ways of reconceptualizing legal missteps that are particularly useful or illuminating? These instructive essays both address the questions and point the way toward further discussion.
When Law Fails reveals the dramatic consequences as well as the daily realities of breakdowns in the law’s ability to deliver justice swiftly and fairly, and calls on us to look beyond headline-grabbing exonerations to see how failure is embedded in the legal system itself. Once we are able to recognize miscarriages of justice we will be able to begin to fix our broken legal system.
Contributors: Douglas A. Berman, Markus D. Dubber, Mary L. Dudziak, Patricia Ewick, Daniel Givelber, Linda Ross Meyer, Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Austin Sarat, Jonathan Simon, and Robert Weisberg.

Austin Sarat is Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and political Science at Amherst College. He is author or editor of more than 80 books, including When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition; Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution; and Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty.

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. He is the author of All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education (WW Norton and Company, 2004) and Co-Author of From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America.

Ogletree and Sarat have assembled an outstanding group of contributors for these original essays.

Library Journal

Bringing into view detailed stories of failures in American legal proceedings, When Law Fails also exposes the patterns of national self-interest, institutional failure, and professional prerogative that compound and bury the errors.

Martha Minow,co-author of Breaking the Cycles of Hatred: Memory, Law, and Repair

The advent of DNA evidence has revealed serious flaws in the criminal justice system, resulting in the conviction of innocent people. Anyone concerned about correcting the unfairness and imbalance in the system should read this book.

Steve Bright,President, Southern Center for Human Rights

When Law Fails is a thoughtful consideration of the criminal justice system and the embedded failures that lie within. The book illustrates both the drama and daily consequences of miscarriages of justice.

The Law and Politics Book Review

Ogletree and Sarat include some of the best contemporary scholars within the field of law and society in this collection that highlights numerous historical examples of laws failure to bring justice. The detail of each contribution is nearly flawless, as is the analysis. This edited volume is a wonderful addition to the various fields within jurisprudence. . . . Highly recommended.


The essays are interesting, informative and thought-provoking.

New York Law Journal

When Law Fails provides a timely lesson in why we must remain diligent in our oversight of the legal system. This compelling collection of essays provides a stark reminder of the human cost of failure and provides a roadmap for addressing inequities in our legal system.

Congressman John Conyers