From searching to saved in America’s criminal justice system
by Shanti Brien, 2021, www.amplifypublishing.com, ISBN-13:978-1-64543-203-6
Reviewed by Pam Hawkes, President, Claremont Forum Board of Directors
This book is an easy and fast read. The author, a criminal appeals attorney, shares her two decades of representing convicted criminals, most of them still serving their original sentence. Her clients have been granted an appellate hearing, which are many times based on their own self-researched, hand-written, multi-page writ of habeas corpus, a document used to bring a prisoner or other detainee before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful. Ms. Brien presents each of her selected cases as a short story, some ending well, most ending badly as so often, she reports, happens to prisoners who, she explains, wage an up-hill battle to ask the court to reduce or modify their sentence.
Some cases are just lost in a cluttered and complicated justice system, one which too often strives to put misjudged or mishandled cases behind them. She writes that she’s often asked at dinner parties, “Why waste your time and energy and why should the government waste so many resources on criminals in federal prisons and on death row having decent, if not comfortable, lives provided by the taxpayers.” She offers that instead of criminals wasting money by constantly appealing, perhaps the government is wasting taxpayers’ dollars by charging people with crimes and upholding convictions instead of admitting their mistakes.
For each vignette, she explains the background, original trial, and resulting sentence. Many of her clients had incompetent legal representation or overwhelmed legal defenders, or in some cases, the crime for which they were convicted, sometimes a “third strike”, is no longer a crime. She presents her journey as an appeals attorney dedicated to helping her clients while trying to balance family life, special needs children, and other stressor including traveling around the country in support of her husband’s career – a former NFL kicker.
What prompted her to write this book is a personal legal happenstance that puts her personal life and her husband’s real estate business in jeopardy, causing the reader to stay attentive to the time-to-time glimpses she reveals as she travels her own legal journey. She is also motivated to tell the story of a justice system full of inequities and challenges, one as motivated by dealing quickly with complicated cases as much as discovering the truth. She personalizes her clients with glimpses of their supportive families as well as their unfortunate personal circumstances.
In just 216 pages, Ms. Brien gives her readers much to think about.