“The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System” by Attorneys Paul Bergman & Sara J. Berman is an impressive 678 page tome of information all about criminal law. The book sets out to assist you with understanding the confusing rules and procedures involved with criminal offences and to teach you how the system works, why police, lawyers, and judges do what they do, and most importantly, what you can do to limit the harm. I feel it accomplishes that goal very well. Most of the book is written in an understandable question-and-answer format to explain the criminal justice system, both inside and outside the courtroom. It goes from initial police questioning through trials to prison and parole.
One must remember that Nolo focuses on making the law accessible to everyone, and the books published by Nolo do an outstanding job of doing just that. Therefore, this book isn’t a criminal law text book as you would find in law school, but a comprehensive guide for the non-lawyer or layperson. For such a guide, it is very good and includes a lot of information.
The twenty-seven chapters are broken down like this:
Chapter One: Talking to the Police. Chapter provides information on police questioning of people who haven’t been taken into custody and questioning of arrestees.
Chapter Two: Search and Seizure. Some of the topics covered here include: search warrants, plain view doctrine, stop and frisk, searches of cars, and warrantless searches.
Chapter Three: Arrest: When It Happens, What It Means. This chapter covers general arrest principles, arrest warrants, warrantless arrests, use of force when making arrests, and citizens’ arrests.
Chapter Four: Eyewitness Identification: Psychology and Procedures. Topics include eyewitness identification procedures, psychology of eyewitness identification, lineups, showups, photo identification, and motions to suppress identification.
Chapter Five: Booking and Bail: Checking In and Out of Jail. The booking process, arranging for bail, and being released on your own recognizance are covered here.
Chapter Six: From Suspect to Defendant. This chapter focuses on crime and criminal cases and charging, grand juries, and diversion.
Chapter Seven: Criminal Defense Lawyers. Do you need a lawyer, court-appointed attorneys, private defense attorneys, and self-representation are covered in this chapter.
Chapter Eight: Understanding the Attorney-Client Relationship in a Criminal Case. Topics include confidentiality, client-centered decision making, lawyer-client communication, among others.
Chapter Nine: A Walk Through Criminal Court. The courthouse, courtroom, courtroom players, and courtroom behavior are explained.
Chapter Ten: Arraignments. Timing and self-representation at arraignments are looked at here.
Chapter Eleven: Developing the Defense Strategy. Just what the chapter title says, the basics of defense strategy.
Chapter Twelve: Crimespeak: Understanding the Language of Criminal Laws. Basics about things such as murder and manslaughter, sexual violence, burglary, robbery, hate crimes, Patriot Act and more.
Chapter Thirteen: Defensespeak: Common Defenses to Criminal Charges. Topics such as partial defenses, self-defense, alibi, and insanity are covered here among others.
Chapter Fourteen: Discovery: Exchanging Information With the Prosecution. Discovery is an important part of any legal or civil case and this chapter provides the basics for the criminal arena.
Chapter Fifteen: Investigating the Facts. Interviews and witnesses are a couple of the things covered here.
Chapter Sixteen: Preliminary Hearings. What they are, what your rights are, and common strategies of both sides are presented here.
Chapter Seventeen: Fundamental Trial Rights of the Defense. Topics covered include: Due Process, Burden of Proof, Right to Remain Silent, Right to Confront Witnesses, Right to Jury Trial, Right to Counsel, and others.
Chapter Eighteen: Basic Evidence Rules in Criminal Trials. There are procedures that must be followed when presenting evidence and this chapter provides guidelines for doing it right.
Chapter Nineteen: Motions and Their Role in Criminal Cases. Learn what they are and what they are for in this chapter.
Chapter Twenty: Plea Bargains: How Most Criminal Cases End. Basics on plea bargains, the pros and cons, the process, and the strategy of negotiating plea bargains are covered in this chapter.
Chapter Twenty-one: The Trial Process. Good chapter on the various aspects of a trial from choosing a judge or jury to deliberations and verdict.
Chapter Twenty-two: Sentencing: How the Court Punishes Convicted Defendants. The basics of sentencing procedures and options and a bit about the death penalty.
Chapter Twenty-three. Appeals: Seeking Review by a Higher Court. Losing at trial does not necessarily mean it is over. This chapter covers appeals and writs.
Chapter Twenty-four: How the Criminal Justice System Works: A Walk Through Two Drunk Driving Cases. Examples using drunk driving.
Chapter Twenty-five: Juvenile Courts and Procedures. Special chapter explaining the how things work in Juvenile Courts.
Chapter Twenty-six: Prisoners’ Rules. Information covering prisons and prisoners’ rights, legal resources, parole and pardons.
Chapter Twenty-seven. Looking Up the Law. What and where to research, including a glossary.
Again, this book is a large tome of information. It is organized well and has many side-bars and examples. If you have a question regarding criminal law, more than likely this book will have an answer. The authors do point out that the law varies from state to state, and I’d recommend that besides this book, anyone dealing with the criminal system on their own look to the statutes in the jurisdiction they are in to ensure they have the law that is applicable to their case. That’s why I really like that the final chapter provides guidance in this area. The authors also note that the book is not intended as a detailed guide to self-representation. It is a thorough overview of the entire system, but it’s not everything, and that’s because you can’t put everything regarding our complex system in one book.
This is an excellent tour of the criminal justice system and one of the best resources around for the layperson who wants or needs to navigate the complex maze of rules and laws that make up our system. I recommend it highly for anyone who wants to know all about criminal law.