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Trials Without Truth

Why Our System of Criminal Trials Has Become an Expensive Failure and What We Need to Do to Rebuild It

William Pizzi

Publication Year: 1999

Reginald Denny. O. J. Simpson. Colin Ferguson. Louise Woodward: all names that have cast a spotlight on the deficiencies of the American system of criminal justice. Yet, in the wake of each trial that exposes shocking behavior by trial participants or results in counterintuitive rulings--often with perverse results--the American public is reassured by the trial bar that the case is not "typical" and that our trial system remains the best in the world.

William T. Pizzi here argues that what the public perceives is in fact exactly what the United States has: a trial system that places far too much emphasis on winning and not nearly enough on truth, one in which the abilities of a lawyer or the composition of a jury may be far more important to the outcome of a case than any evidence.

How has a system on which Americans have lavished enormous amounts of energy, time, and money been allowed to degenerate into one so profoundly flawed?

Acting as an informal tour guide, and bringing to bear his experiences as both insider and outsider, prosecutor and academic, Pizzi here exposes the structural faultlines of our trial system and its paralyzing obsession with procedure, specifically the ways in which lawyers are permitted to dominate trials, the system's preference for weak judges, and the absurdities of plea bargaining. By comparing and contrasting the U.S. system with that of a host of other countries, Trials Without Truth provides a clear-headed, wide-ranging critique of what ails the criminal justice system--and a prescription for how it can be fixed.

Published by: NYU Press



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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I have written a book about the American trial system. But the book comes out of a decade of studying the trial systems in other countries. For that reason, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to many people who have helped me with comparative research over...

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pp. 1-4

Up until the 1990s, American lawyers and judges seemed to have many reasons to be proud of our criminal justice system. While none of them could have been na

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Chapter 1: Soccer, Football, and Trial Systems

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pp. 5-24

In a book that attacks our criminal trial system, readers rightly expect that the author will discuss topics such as juries, the jury selection process, the appalling behavior of trial lawyers, and a trial system that emphasizes winning much more than truth. Yet this...

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Chapter 2: Technicalities and Truth

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pp. 25-45

Just as all football-loving Americans believe that enough time and effort devoted to rulings on the football field will yield something close to adjudicative perfection, American judges have the same confidence that adjudicative perfection is achievable in their...

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Chapter 3: Truth and the Amount of Evidence Available at Trial

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pp. 46-68

Imagine that the following crime occurs and you are a homicide detective: Neighbors in an apartment building hear a scream around 11 p.m. Then two shots ring out in a ground floor apartment. The police are called. There is no response to a knock on the door so they...

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Chapter 4: A Trial System in Trouble

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pp. 69-88

To be strong, every criminal justice system has to be built upon a trial system in which it has confidence. While it is na

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Chapter 5: Discovering Who We Are

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pp. 89-116

In this chapter, I will describe in overview the trial systems of four different western countries: the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and England. I chose the first three because their criminal justice systems are well respected and yet they vary considerably from one...

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Chatper 6: Criminal Trials in the United States

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pp. 117-139

In the previous chapter I presented sketches of four western trial systems, demonstrating the considerable variety among them. Indeed, even within a single country there is often more than one model for criminal trials. For example, England and Norway use...

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Chapter 7: Trials without Truth

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pp. 140-153

As a group, the American judiciary is the most powerful in the world. We are accustomed to seeing judges at all levels strike down local, state, or federal statutes and regulations for any number of constitutional reasons. This is a power that judges don’t have in...

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Chapter 8: The Supreme Court

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pp. 154-182

One of the difficulties with the American criminal justice system is that it is heavily constitutionalized. Any reform proposal, even a rather minor one, runs up against the argument that it would violate the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court...

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Chapter 9: A Weak Trial System

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pp. 183-199

A weak trial system can have serious consequences for any country. While it is na

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Chapter 10: Juries

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pp. 200-220

A criminal justice system is an organic whole that is only as strong as its weakest part. A system may have the greatest trial procedures in the world, but if the rules governing the investigation do not allow the police to gather a sufficient amount of reliable evidence...

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Chapter 11: Starting Down the Path to Reform

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pp. 221-233

For the last decade the American public has been told over and over by bar leaders that our trial system is basically sound and that whatever problems have emerged in recent trials they are isolated occurrences that can be attributed largely to human error. This...


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pp. 235-242

Further Readings

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pp. 243-248


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pp. 249-254

About the Author

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p. 257

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768709
E-ISBN-10: 0814768709
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814766491
Print-ISBN-10: 0814766498

Page Count: 257
Publication Year: 1999

OCLC Number: 50760656
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Trials Without Truth

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Subject Headings

  • Criminal justice, Administration of -- United States.
  • Trial practice -- United States.
  • Criminal courts -- United States.
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