A new book by Preet Bharara titled "Doing Justice" is an interesting and informative insight for anyone who wants to better understand our American system of justice and how it actually works.
Preet Bharara was appointed by President Barrack Obama to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and served until 2017 when he was fired by President Donald Trump. He was named by Time Magazine in 2012 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was named Person of the Year by India Abroad newspaper.
His new book is peppered with cases he handled, which he uses to explain the four stages of a criminal case: the investigation, making the formal accusation, the trial, and the sentencing. In the first part of the book, he tells the story of Lyle and Eric Menendez, rich boys who killed their parents, and how friends were 100% sure that they were innocent.
We learn about Hassan Nemazee, a very wealthy Iranian-American charged with bank fraud, who turned out to be a less famous version of Bernard Madoff.
Another chapter goes into the famous case of Brandon Mayfield, who was wrongly linked to the 2004 bombing in Madrid, Spain, based on a fingerprint. Another victim of misidentification was Eric Glisson, who spent 17 years in prison before Bharara’s office tracked down and found the real killer.
Bharara argues cogently that the questioning of a suspect is much more successful if done with gentleness, not with water-boarding. He illustrates this with the story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, the Nazi who was the most effective questioner for the Luftwaffe during World War II.
He also tells us about the case of Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up Times Square in 2010, and who eventually gave prosecutors a complete confession and a catalog of his co-conspirators.
One of the most interesting chapters deals with snitches: “The Moral Quicksand of Cooperating Witnesses." When and why is it ethical to give one criminal a good plea bargain (or even a “get out of jail card”) in exchange for testimony about another criminal?
Many of Bharara’s most famous convictions of drug dealers and inside traders on Wall Street were obtained with the help of cooperators. He asks, “Is it right for the government to make a deal with the devil to get another devil?”
The second part of the book deals with how prosecutors decide what charges to bring against a defendant. Bharara explains how in 2015 he charged two of the three most powerful political leaders in New York with corruption: Sheldon Silver, the Democratic assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader.
Another shocking case involved Gilberto Valle, who was charged with planning to kill his wife and eat her, but whose conviction was eventually overturned by the judge.
In many cases, prosecutors decide not to prosecute minor crimes because of lack of resources. In other cases they decide they simply don’t have enough evidence to proceed against an individual. He reminds us that “millions believe Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted” and “millions think the same about Donald Trump.” And “woe unto the feckless prosecutors who did not (or will not) oblige," he says.
When Bharara charged Dinesh D’Souza with a campaign finance violation, and Raj Rajaratnam with insider trading, some people accused him of being biased against immigrants from South Asia. It should be noted that Bharara himself is an immigrant from India.
The next part of the book, regarding trial and judgment, has a fascinating story about Lamont Rolle, nicknamed Bam, who was convicted of a brutal assault by matching serial numbers on dollar bills.
The final chapter has a heartbreaking story about a baby who was kidnapped and raised by Ann Petway as her own child. The crime was solved 23 years later and Bharara asks us to decide what would be an appropriate punishment for the kidnapper, especially when the 23-year-old victim does not want her “mother” to go to prison.
These and many other fascinating cases make this book well worth reading for anyone interested in crime, punishment and the rule of law.
James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota’s Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills and probate in the Lake County area, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jamesmanahan.com.