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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2020

The book under analysis goes under the title Book Review: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and it is written by Bryan Stevenson. The author of the book is one of the most renowned lawyers in the USA, and he tells his story, as well as stories of his clients, in his book. Just Merci can be regarded as another loud call for action as the author brings out numerous issues deteriorating the Justice system. Stevenson tells the stories of people waiting on death row, which draws even more attention to his accounts. The book is a description and a certain kind of reflection of the system. The author’s clients are representatives of underprivileged groups just like the majority of incarcerated people who are minority groups (ethnic minorities, poor, immigrants, and so on). The writing reveals numerous themes that resonate with many people’s hearts and minds. This review focuses on two themes that have been widely discussed in the US society.

One of the major themes, or even the central one, is associated with inequality. At this point, it is important to note that the author focuses on the Justice system and hardships of prisoners, but he also sheds light on other aspects of the American society that are characterized by inequality. First, his clients are representatives of ethnic minorities and underprivileged populations. Stevenson’s first client was an African American in his early twenties. The first chapters of the book unveil one of the most significant issues many Americans have to face. The lack of lawyers makes many prisoners vulnerable. The author stresses that there were times when people in the South simply thought that prisoners would be executed without any meaningful involvement of lawyers. Ethnic minorities have a few opportunities to hire a lawyer, which often results in severe sentences.

As has been mentioned above, the author provides real-life stories, which makes the book quite personal. This feature is one of its major strengths, but it is also a weakness. On the one hand, real people and their stories may readers feel that they are witnessing the main characters’ hardships. This emotional load can facilitate the discussion of the most burning issues in the system. On the other hand, it makes the book less impartial, which is often associated with a certain bias. For instance, Stevenson reveals some details of his background and stresses that his clients are just like people who lived in his community. The author notes that he has also witnessed inequality as he lived in a segregated community. These parallels make readers understand that underprivileged groups are prone to the excessive strictness of the system where opinions of the majority prevail.

At the same time, it is clear that the author has a particular view on the matter that is deeply rooted in his past. Stevenson has seen injustice in many spheres of his life and the life of other people. These experiences could make him more focused on protecting his clients and advocating for people like them. The author does not state that his clients and many incarcerated people are sinless, but he still seems to pay no attention to other sides of his clients’ characters. Stevenson managed to prove that some of his clients were innocent, but others were still guilty of committing certain crimes. It is important to reveal this aspect as well. To understand the gaps in the system, it is crucial to consider all factors and issues. The system is not perfect, and many innocent people suffer. However, it is not only about saving people from the death penalty. To improve the system, it is necessary to make sure that incarcerated people serve adequate terms or receive adequate punishment. The focus on the brighter side of delinquents can jeopardize the development of the Justice system as well as the development of the entire American society.

The other theme to be discussed is related to the controversy of the life sentence for crimes committed in adolescents. Delinquent crime is one of the most discusses topics in the US society that claims to focus on the wellbeing of and opportunities for young generations. Stevenson emphasizes that adolescents are not allowed to vote or drink alcohol, but they are fully responsible for their actions. The author’s points are strong and appealing. The author contributes to the lasting debate stating that adolescents should not be punished as harshly as they are now. The author shows that many of the convicted find themselves under circumstances that make them violent and ready to break laws. Many adolescents of color have fewer opportunities as compared to other groups, which makes them see crime as a possible (and sometimes the only) way out. This theme can also help in improving the US Justice system. Punishment should be adequate. Stevenson also stresses that delinquent crime is also associated with a considerable agreement of bias as minority groups are often victims of the system.

One of the advantages of the book is also associated with the use of allusions to famous cases. For example, Stevenson draws parallels between the case of his client, Walter McMillian, and the famous case immortalized in the book To Kill the Mocking Bird. McMillian was accused of the murder of a white woman, which made him seem guilty without even a detailed investigation. Such cases are not rare in the United States, and Stevenson makes them vivid by telling his true story. The parallels given make readers understand that the segregation of the society is still present in this or that form, which makes the issue more personal and urgent. The author stresses that American society is still characterized by the vices of the beginning of the 20th century even at the beginning of the 21st century.

Another strength of the book is its perspective. It is quite common for activists, former prisoners, and journalists to be the major advocates of the changes in the system. However, every lawyer’s opinion and input are valuable. Stevenson is not the only lawyer who draws the public’s attention to the issues in the Justice System and the vulnerability of certain groups. However, his potent voice contributes significantly to the debate and make many people more active. He does not simply shed light on some personal circumstances or vices of society. The author manages to reveal particular weaknesses within the system. A lawyer’s perspective can help address the major gaps to make the system more effective.

For example, Stevenson shares his dissatisfaction with the practice when judges use their right to override the jury’s decision. In many cases, it is apparent that the decision is made by one person exclusively with no regard for other people’s opinions. Such systems cannot be regarded as just. The author provides examples when sentences were too harsh, which often led to the dissatisfaction of the public. These cases often involve an African American delinquent and a White victim. Many judges are biased, which hurts the development of the system. Another issue revealed is the way judges come to the office. American judges are elected, and Stevens stresses that this practice results in bias and injustice within the system. The author stresses that judges are mainly representatives of the majority, at least, in Alabama. Moreover, judges tend to make decisions based on the opinion of the majority as they are elected and do not want to cause voters’ dissatisfaction.

Other procedural issues are also brought to the fore in the book. Stevenson repeatedly stresses that witnesses are often ignored by the court. African Americans and other minority groups are Some evidence can also be disregarded when the defendant is a representative of a minority group. It is also stressed that some methodologies’ effectiveness has been largely overestimated. DNA tests have been associated with various errors as their interpretation often resulted in erroneous convictions. This practice unveils the existing bias that makes the Justice system unjust. Such procedural gaps receive certain attention in the media. Stevenson’s contribution is also valuable. The author depicts particular cases when such gaps led to death or life sentences.

The author does not provide recommendations as to possible improvements in the system. He unveils the major flaws and vices. He shows how the system affects people’s lives. The author also mentions many people who have been brave enough to fight for their right to justice. Some of the stories provided are inspirational. He notes that the purpose of the book is to make people know about all those cases that are characterized by injustice, inequality, and prejudice. He makes readers think of those who have been incarcerated or executed wrongly. One of the major questions he poses is associated with the core concept of the Justice system. The author questions the right of people who are a part of the system to decide whether defendants are guilty and come up with the punishment for them. It is clear that the US Justice system needs changes, and Stevenson’s book shows some areas of the major concern.

In conclusion, it is possible to note that the book is a valuable source of information concerning the weaknesses of the American justice system. It sheds light on such issues as inequality, the lack of lawyers, judges’ bias, the jury’s prejudice, procedural gaps. The author draws readers’ attention to delinquent crime controversy and asks an important question. Stevenson makes readers think about one of the central concepts associated with the Justice system. It becomes unclear whether those who make decisions as to people’s punishment have the right to decide. This book can help in addressing the most urgent issues. Lawyers, prosecutors, policymakers, and other stakeholders should have this book as it can help them see real people behind decisions, procedures, and hearings. Having real stories in mind may help people contribute to the development of a truly just Justice system.

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IvyPanda. "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption." October 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/just-mercy-a-story-of-justice-and-redemption/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption." October 12, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/just-mercy-a-story-of-justice-and-redemption/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption'. 12 October.

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