PERSONAL: Born in Chicago, IL; father a transit authority mechanic; married Jane Neumann; children: two. Education: Northwestern University, journalism degree, 1976.
CAREER: Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, feature writer, late 1970s; Chicago Reader, staff writer, 1981–; journalism instructor, Northwestern University.
AWARDS, HONORS: Awards for articles in Chicago Reader; Alicia Patterson fellowship, 1993.
Courtroom 302: A Year behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse (nonfiction), Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Steve Bogira exposes the lack of justice in the U.S. criminal justice system in his book Courtroom 302: A Year behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse. Bogira, a journalist, spent a year observing proceedings in the courtroom of the title, as well as other areas of Cook County, Chicago's Criminal Courthouse. He talked with the judge, jurors, policemen, attorneys, and defendants who appeared there. His focus was not on high-profile cases, but the everyday operations of the court, which is the busiest felony court in the United States.
Bogira describes the people who are acquitted and convicted in this courthouse, and exposes how conviction propels them into a ruthless criminal-justice system that is destructive to human lives. He concludes that the miscarriage of justice is disturbingly common; in one case he found widespread misconduct among prosecutors and police, which in turn is frequently overlooked by judges. He found situations involving false confessions, misuse of evidence, overworked defenders, and quandaries arising in cases involving mentally retarded defendants. Most defendants are too poor to hire a lawyer, and have only a few brief minutes with their court-appointed defender before they go to trial. Because of their circumstances, they are vulnerable to the pressure to strike plea bargains.
The author focuses especially on Judge Locallo, who, in the words of Legal Intelligencer writer Steve Weinberg, demonstrates "the wondrous complexity of human beings as he sounds like a paragon of virtue one moment, a cynical, all-powerful arbiter of life and death the next…. Locallo's strengths and weaknesses are a poignant reminder not only that those on the bench are fallible human beings, but also that so much of how fairly or unfairly a defendant is treated depends on which judge is assigned to his or her case." Weinberg further advised: "So much in Courtroom 302 is revelatory that the revelations cannot even be summarized adequately in a book review … there is only one solution: Get hold of this important, compelling book, and prepare yourself to be shocked and awed."
"Bogira's book is a brilliant piece of journalism and a genuine eye-opener," wrote a writer for the Economist, the critic further noting that while "the picture that emerges is tawdry and disappointing," the author has done a skillful job of pulling all his elements together to produce "a compelling narrative, that is often more entertaining than most of the cop shows which are so popular on American television." Another recommendation came from Jane S. Drabkin, who wrote in School Library Journal: "The horrific injustice of the flawed system cries out from almost every page, even as honorable and intelligent, yet all too human court officers work diligently within it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2005, Vernon Ford, review of Courtroom 302: A Year behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse, p. 1116.
Chicago Sun Times, March 20, 2005, Tom McNamee, review of Courtroom 302.
Economist, March 19, 2005, review of Courtroom 302, p. 86.
Entertainment Weekly, April 8, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of Courtroom 302, p. 70.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2005, review of Courtroom 302, p. 158.
Legal Intelligencer, April 22, 2005, Steve Weinberg, review of Courtroom 302.
Legal Times, April 4, 2005, review of Courtroom 302.
Library Journal, March 15, 2005, Harry Charles, review of Courtroom 302, p. 98.
Publishers Weekly, February 14, 2005, review of Courtoom 302, p. 67.
School Library Journal, July, 2005, Jane S. Drabkin, review of Courtroom 302, p. 132.
Washington Monthly, June, 2005, review of Courtroom 302, p. 5.
Washington Post, March 29, 2005, review of Courtroom 302, p. C4.
BookReporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (November 15, 2005), Stuart Shiffman, review of Courtroom 302.
Brennan Center for Justice Web site, http://www.brennancenter.org/ (November 16, 2005), biographical information about Steve Bogira.
Huntington News Network, http://www.huntingtonnews.net/ (May 3, 2005), David M. Kinchen, review of Courtroom 302.