A Theory of the Trial

Princeton University Press
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Anyone who has sat on a jury or followed a high-profile trial on television usually comes to the realization that a trial, particularly a criminal trial, is really a performance. Verdicts seem determined as much by which lawyer can best connect with the hearts and minds of the jurors as by what the evidence might suggest. In this celebration of the American trial as a great cultural achievement, Robert Burns, a trial lawyer and a trained philosopher, explores how these legal proceedings bring about justice. The trial, he reminds us, is not confined to the impartial application of legal rules to factual findings. Burns depicts the trial as an institution employing its own language and styles of performance that elevate the understanding of decision-makers, bringing them in contact with moral sources beyond the limits of law.

Burns explores the rich narrative structure of the trial, beginning with the lawyers' opening statements, which establish opposing moral frameworks in which to interpret the evidence. In the succession of witnesses, stories compete and are held in tension. At some point during the performance, a sense of the right thing to do arises among the jurors. How this happens is at the core of Burns's investigation, which draws on careful descriptions of what trial lawyers do, the rules governing their actions, interpretations of actual trial material, social science findings, and a broad philosophical and political appreciation of the trial as a unique vehicle of American self-government.

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About the author

Robert P. Burns is Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law, where he teaches evidence, legal ethics, and procedure. He has practiced law for twenty-five years and has published widely in law journals and reviews.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 8, 2001
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9781400823376
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Jurisprudence
Law / Legal History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Robert P. Burns
The Trial is actually closer to reality than fantasy as far as the client’s perception of the system. It’s supposed to be a fantastic allegory, but it’s reality. It’s very important that lawyers read it and understand this.” Justice Anthony Kennedy famously offered this assessment of the Kafkaesque character of the American criminal justice system in 1993. While Kafka’s vision of the “Law” in The Trial appears at first glance to be the antithesis of modern American legal practice, might the characteristics of this strange and arbitrary system allow us to identify features of our own system that show signs of becoming similarly nightmarish?

With Kafka’s Law, Robert P. Burns shows how The Trial provides an uncanny lens through which to consider flaws in the American criminal justice system today. Burns begins with the story, at once funny and grim, of Josef K., caught in the Law’s grip and then crushed by it. Laying out the features of the Law that eventually destroy K., Burns argues that the American criminal justice system has taken on many of these same features. In the overwhelming majority of contemporary cases, police interrogation is followed by a plea bargain, in which the court’s only function is to set a largely predetermined sentence for an individual already presumed guilty. Like Kafka’s nightmarish vision, much of American criminal law and procedure has become unknowable, ubiquitous, and bureaucratic. It, too, has come to rely on deception in dealing with suspects and jurors, to limit the role of defense, and to increasingly dispense justice without the protection of formal procedures. But, while Kennedy may be correct in his grim assessment, a remedy is available in the tradition of trial by jury, and Burns concludes by convincingly arguing for its return to a more central place in American criminal justice.
Jeffrey Toobin
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The inspiration for American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson on FX, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., John Travolta, David Schwimmer, and Connie Britton
 
The definitive account of the O. J. Simpson trial, The Run of His Life is a prodigious feat of reporting that could have been written only by the foremost legal journalist of our time. First published less than a year after the infamous verdict, Jeffrey Toobin’s nonfiction masterpiece tells the whole story, from the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman to the ruthless gamesmanship behind the scenes of “the trial of the century.” Rich in character, as propulsive as a legal thriller, this enduring narrative continues to shock and fascinate with its candid depiction of the human drama that upended American life.
 
Praise for The Run of His Life
 
“This is the book to read.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“This book stands out as a gripping and colorful account of the crime and trial that captured the world’s attention.”—Boston Sunday Globe
 
“A real page-turner . . . strips away the months of circuslike televised proceedings and the sordid tell-all books and lays out a simple, but devastating, synopsis of the case.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“A well-written, profoundly rational analysis of the trial and, more specifically, the lawyers who conducted it.”—USA Today
 
“Engrossing . . . Toobin’s insight into the motives and mind-set of key players sets this Simpson book apart from the pack.”—People (one of the top ten books of the year)


From the Hardcover edition.
Jay Feinman
In each of the first three editions of the bestselling Law 101, Jay Feinman gave readers an upbeat and vivid examination of the American legal system. Since the third edition was published in 2010, much has happened: several key Supreme Court cases have been decided, we've seen sensational criminal trials, and the legal system has had to account for the latest developments in Internet law. This fully updated fourth edition of Law 101 accounts for all this and more, as Feinman once again provides a clear introduction to American law. The book covers all the main subjects taught in the first year of law school, and discusses every facet of the American legal tradition, including constitutional law, the litigation process, and criminal, property, and contracts law. To accomplish this, Feinman brings in the most noteworthy, infamous, and often outrageous examples and cases. We learn about the case involving scalding coffee that cost McDonald's half a million dollars, the murder trial in Victorian London that gave us the legal definition of insanity, and the epochal decision of Marbury vs. Madison that gave the Supreme Court the power to declare state and federal law unconstitutional. A key to learning about the law is learning legal vocabulary, and Feinman helps by clarifying terms like "due process" and "equal protection," as well as by drawing distinctions between terms like "murder" and "manslaughter." Above all, though, is that Feinman reveals to readers of all kinds that despite its complexities and quirks, the law is can be understood by everyone. Perfect for students contemplating law school, journalists covering legislature, or even casual fans of "court-television" shows, Law 101 is a clear and accessible introduction to the American legal system. New to this edition: Featured analysis of: -the Obamacare case -Citizens United -the DOMA decision -the Trayvon Martin case As well as recent legal developments pertaining to: -online contracting -mortgages -police investigations -criminal sentencing
J. Harvie Wilkinson III
American constitutional law has undergone a transformation. Issues once left to the people have increasingly become the province of the courts. Subjects as diverse as abortion rights and firearms regulations, health care reform and counterterrorism efforts, not to mention a millennial presidential election, are more and more the domain of judges. What sparked this development? In this engaging volume, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson argues that America's most brilliant legal minds have launched a set of cosmic constitutional theories that, for all their value, are undermining self-governance. Thinkers as diverse as Justices William Brennan and Antonin Scalia, Professor John Hart Ely, Judges Robert Bork and Richard Posner, have all produced seminal interpretations of our Founding document, but ones that promise to imbue courts with unprecedented powers. While crediting the theorists for the sparkling quality of their thoughts, Judge Wilkinson argues they will slowly erode the role of representative institutions in America and leave our children bereft of democratic liberty. The loser in all the theoretical fireworks is the old and honorable tradition of judicial restraint. The judicial modesty once practiced by Learned Hand, John Harlan, and Oliver Wendell Holmes has given way to competing schools of liberal and conservative activism seeking sanctuary in Living Constitutionalism, Originalism, Process Theory, or the supposedly anti-theoretical creed of Pragmatism. Each of these seemingly disparate theories promises their followers an intellectually respectable route to congenial political outcomes from the bench. Judge Wilkinson calls for a plainer, simpler, self-disciplined commitment to judicial restraint and democratic governance, a course that alas may be impossible so long as the cosmic constitutionalists so dominate contemporary legal thought.
Robert P. Burns
The Trial is actually closer to reality than fantasy as far as the client’s perception of the system. It’s supposed to be a fantastic allegory, but it’s reality. It’s very important that lawyers read it and understand this.” Justice Anthony Kennedy famously offered this assessment of the Kafkaesque character of the American criminal justice system in 1993. While Kafka’s vision of the “Law” in The Trial appears at first glance to be the antithesis of modern American legal practice, might the characteristics of this strange and arbitrary system allow us to identify features of our own system that show signs of becoming similarly nightmarish?

With Kafka’s Law, Robert P. Burns shows how The Trial provides an uncanny lens through which to consider flaws in the American criminal justice system today. Burns begins with the story, at once funny and grim, of Josef K., caught in the Law’s grip and then crushed by it. Laying out the features of the Law that eventually destroy K., Burns argues that the American criminal justice system has taken on many of these same features. In the overwhelming majority of contemporary cases, police interrogation is followed by a plea bargain, in which the court’s only function is to set a largely predetermined sentence for an individual already presumed guilty. Like Kafka’s nightmarish vision, much of American criminal law and procedure has become unknowable, ubiquitous, and bureaucratic. It, too, has come to rely on deception in dealing with suspects and jurors, to limit the role of defense, and to increasingly dispense justice without the protection of formal procedures. But, while Kennedy may be correct in his grim assessment, a remedy is available in the tradition of trial by jury, and Burns concludes by convincingly arguing for its return to a more central place in American criminal justice.
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