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Publisher's Summary

Courtroom 302 is the fascinating story of one year in Chicago's Cook County Criminal Courthouse, the busiest felony courthouse in the country. Here we see the system through the eyes of the men and women who experience it, not only in the courtroom but in the lockup, the jury room, the judge's chambers, the spectators' gallery.

From the daily grind of the court to the highest-profile case of the year, Steve Bogira's masterful investigation raises fundamental issues of race, civil rights, and justice in America.

©2005 Steve Bogira (P)2017 Tantor

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  • Dave
  • Glenview, IL, United States
  • 02-27-18

Fascinating Account of a Year in One Courtroom

I absolutely loved this audiobook, and it is still on my mind weeks after listening to it.
The author tells the simultaneous stories of the defendants, victims, lawyers, guards, families and the one particularly interesting judge who heard all of the cases assigned to Courtroom #302 at Chicago's notorious Cook County Courthouse in the course of a single typical year. But no crime or trial is typical to the people involved in it, and Courtroom 302 does a beautiful job of conveying that simple truth.

Like a wartime reporter embedded with a military unit in Iraq, the author is essentially embedded in this courtroom and given remarkable access to everyone who spends time in it during a single year. He follows the cases from the commission of the crime through the arrest, jailing, prosecution and aftermath, jumping from one participant's perspective to another to give a sort of 3D view of the whole process. It's Law and Order on steroids, taking that concept beyond just police and lawyers to include everyone touched in some way by the event. The details of the various crimes and their impact on all of the different people involved were obviously compelling, although not all of them were necessarily notorious or headline-grabbing.. But that's part of what made this such an unusually interesting book, because the stories were about everyday people whose lives converged with other everyday people in this one courtroom.

In fact, one of the most intriguing aspects of this account was the way it contrasted the life-changing urgency of appearing in Room 302 to the defendants and victims with the workaday normalcy of that very same place and time to the judge, lawyers and guards who make their living in that room. To some, it was the most important day of their lives. To the people who defended, prosecuted, guarded and judged them, it was just another day at work. Admittedly serious work, but work nevertheless. The author tells all of these stories with warmth, humanity and even some humor, but treats everyone involved with a reporter's eye for human detail and the seriousness with which we all view our own lives.

The narrator is excellent, and perfectly suited to the material. There's an unexpected cadence to his narration that you notice at first, but like most good narrators he drew me so fully and comfortably into the story that the narration itself practically disappeared. I quickly forgot I was being read to at all.

I received a free copy of this audiobook at my request in exchange for an unbiased review, and I was surprised that it turned out to be one of my favorite non-fiction reads this year. If you're looking for a very interesting true story that isn't like every other true crime book, this is a great choice. I can't recall listening to another book that is quite like it. If you're interested in how the law really works in real-life practice, this is also a great choice. For me, this one book about one year in one Chicago courtroom taught me more about the American legal system and it's flaws, brilliance, humanity and inhumanity than the 4 years of Pre-Law classes I took in college. And if you're just looking to spend a few hours with an engaging cast of real-life characters caught up in real-life dramas, this is a great choice yet again.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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A look into a broken court system

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, this is a very interesting book that makes you think about how our court system is run and how broken it really can be. We think it is "just and fair" but there are so many things as citizens who haven't experiences a court date never would imagine.

What other book might you compare Courtroom 302 to and why?

I personally haven't experienced another book that I could compare it to.

What does Mark Kamish bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The subject matter of the book can be rather dry so by listening to the audio you can get some emotion behind the words that you wouldn't have if you were just reading the book. This is especially true when you are reading something from an inmates/defendant's point of view.

Any additional comments?

This book points out many points of view - from a judge, inmate, lawyer, guard, etc. It shows where the system is falling down and points where we are doing okay. I personally liked hearing about real like trials that went on during the time the books was written and also about the people affected in the book. It was interesting to hear the back story of the people on trial and also the victims. It's interesting to also hear how much unnecessary info is presented at trial but how much info that should be presented is not. The whole criminal process was eye opening in this book.


I was provided this audiobook through Audiobook Boom at no charge by the publisher and have voluntarily left an unbiased review.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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The Underbelly of Justice is not pretty

Where does Courtroom 302 rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

It's very well written, informative and excellently narrated. For non-fiction books about the US court system, this is a must listen.

What did you like best about this story?

The author was fortunate to be present during a trial that made shockwaves not only across Chicago but across the country. The intimate details of the courtroom proceedings with additional detail provided by the people involved made the final several hours of this book an impactful book. It is a very well researched book by Steve Bogira and the narration of book was skillfully handled by Mark Kamish.

Which scene was your favorite?

The final trial is well-portrayed.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The book details one courtroom in Chicago in the mid to late 90s. The book does a great job detailing how broken the US Justice system is with an emphasis on being expeditious more than delivering justice. The system is badly and sadly slanted against people of color in this country. That comes out on nearly every page of this book.

Any additional comments?

What this book is: well-written; narrated with excellent rhythm and tone. An in-depth look at the legal process and how unfair it can be to so many people. It is an important look into the horror that many face daily.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Enlightening and Thought-Provoking

I believe that most Americans realize that our legal system is broken. Courtroom 302 presents an enlightening and sobering account of the overburdened Chicago court system, revealing just how broken it truly is. Although this focuses on Chicago, I would suspect it is representative of big cities across the nation. The 14th Amendment guarantees "equal protection of the laws" but it is obvious that some are more equal than others. The rich or well-connected have advantages beyond "equal". If their cases aren't dismissed or just swept under the rug, they have the advantage of top notch attorneys dedicated to their case and also have the means to post bail. On the other hand, the poor usually have to rely on overworked and underpaid public defenders that have dozens of other cases. Bail is often beyond their means.

A large part of the problem is the legal machine itself. Any "cog" that slows down the machine is often looked down on by its peers. Too many attorneys and judges are more concerned with their numbers, whether it is for career advancement or facing re-election, to worry about justice. Fairness is too often trumped by expediency.

Poverty, environment, drugs and mental illness can play a part in predicting future offenders. I am certainly not implying that all poor people become criminals. I live in a major city in a predominantly poor Hispanic neighborhood and my neighbors are all good people. Most of the poor are law-abiding citizens, so it comes down to a choice. In the face of poverty and a criminal environment, some choose to rise above their circumstances, while others succumb to it. Nor do I think that you are destined to criminal activity because you suffer from a mental illness. I simply think that these groups are more vulnerable. I also believe that not nearly enough is done to improve mental health or rehabilitate those addicted to drugs. The government should be spending more to prevent crime instead of building new prisons.

A couple of things in this audiobook surprised me. First, convicted criminals in Chicago only serve half of their sentence due to overcrowding. Second, I was struck by the inequity of sentences. Someone caught with a small amount of drugs can expect to serve a lengthy sentence, while a man who beats his wife to a bloody pulp gets a slap on the wrist in comparison. I certainly don't condone drug use but how is it worse to possess a gram of cocaine than to beat your wife? Wrong, just wrong.

Okay, rant over. Courtroom 302 really riled me up, which I suspect was the point. Although a lengthy listen, I was captivated by the stories and interviews of the participants. How sad that a defendant took a plea deal only because he knew that he wouldn't get a fair shake from the Chicago legal system. We as a society should be more concerned with the root causes of criminal activity instead of how to house our criminals. Defendants also deserve to be treated fairly and that includes the presumption of innocence. Courtroom 302 was a real eye-opener and I would highly recommend it.

Mark Kamish as narrator gave a solid performance. I was immediately drawn in to the story and was kept engaged throughout.

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review. This review is my honest opinion.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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Enlightening, Informative, Exciting t

I found this audio book to be very enlightening about the criminal justice system from a different perspective. It actually made me do my own research about the Caruso case. I commend the author for sharing this experience. Once again it shows the very different sentencing and handling of court cases by race. It was interesting to un derstand that pleas are easier because it wastes less time of the court. I was discouraged at the ending of the case but only because of the racial bias.

I will listen to this audio book again. Thank you for sharing your court experiences. As a person that has been a victim of a violent crime this gave me more insight of the defense attorney and public defenders.

I was given a free review copy of this audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A Law-Abiding Citizen

“Courtroom 302” made me glad I’m a law-abiding citizen. This book is nothing less than the biography of a Chicago circuit court courtroom told through the stories of the people and cases that pass through it. Not only do we get to know the judge who presides in 302 we also become familiar with the supporting cast of deputies, other judges and attorneys on both sides. We also are treated to in-depth stories of the cases that are tried in 302 from petty drug offenses to full-blown murder trials.

This is a comprehensive sixteen hour book that is well worth the time.

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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True Crime Court

What impressed me most about this book was the level of access the author was able to get. With the content neither glorifying the state or assuming everyone was innocent, it was interesting to see how many stories came from only a year in this one courtroom.

One thing this book does a good job of is showing how important it is to have a fair justice system. The other thing this book does is to show you how awful the state does at ensuring that it is fair or just - it is barely a system. It is clear from this book that the drug war is lost and worthless.

There are varying stories throughout this book from the normal drug cases to the high profile hate crimes and murder cases. The author does a good job of picking cases that show the overall view of this particular court. At times it either has a few too many people it takes the perspective from or stories that seem to repeat.

However, this was a really good book that does give a behind the scene look at a typical city courthouse. The saddest part is that reform, which most people clearly see is needed, will most likely never come. Final Grade - B+

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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every lawyer should listen to this book

sadly enough the courtroom in many countries is very cruel this book is a fantastic book with a lot of interesting details ... those things are very essential for us to understand how much the system is lacking..
and how much we as a society have to change

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Tragic Account of a Broken System

Author Steve Bogira, a long time reporter for the Chicago Reader, spent a year digging through the court cases. Most cases involve uneducated, poor, drug-addicted minorities.

Sadly, the only truly empathetic people showcased in Bogira's book are the mothers of the victims and the mothers of the defendants. Many of the judges lack ethics, or at best, show inconsistent good judgement. Judge Daniel Locallo, who is at the heart of Bogira's story, appears to be honest and hard working...until Bogira digs up some of his questionable work as a young prosecutor. The attorneys placate the judges--to get on their good side--many times to the detriment of their clients. The defendants may--or may not--be guilty of the crime for which they're on trial, but for the most part, they admit to being guilty of something.

The injustice is frustrating to hear. The amount of relevant evidence that is not presented in court is shocking! The story of Courtroom 302 is told through interviews with primary sources in addition to the author's detailed research of court documents. Bogie paints a clear picture of an overburdened system that is filled with cynical, burnt out public workers. The need for change is evident however, I finished the book thing that the "outside-the-box" solutions needed were not likely to be implemented.

Mark Kamish's excellent narration made this interesting yet dry topic come to life.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful