December 12, 2023
Ordinary Injustice by Alfredo Mirandé is the unique and riveting story of a young Latino student, Juan Rulfo, with no previous criminal record involved in a domestic violence dispute that quickly morphs into a complex case with ten felonies, multiple enhancements, a “No Bail” order, and a potential life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Building from author Alfredo Mirandé’s earlier work Rascuache Lawyer, the account is told by “The Professor,” who led a pro bono rascuache legal defense team comprising the professor, a retired prosecutor, and student interns, working without a budget, office, paralegals, investigators, or support staff. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in race, gender, and criminal injustice and will appeal not only to law scholars and social scientists but to lay readers interested in ethnographic field research, Latinx communities, and racial disparities in the legal system. Read an excerpt from the book’s Introduction below.
Ordinary Injustice is an in-depth ethnographic account of what should have been a routine, simple misdemeanor case involving a young Latino doctoral student, Juan Rulfo, with no previous criminal record who was ultimately charged with multiple felonies stemming from a toxic, romantic relationship. Incredibly, a routine domestic dispute morphed into a complex life case with multiple enhancements, a “No Bail” order, and the defendant initially facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Unlike books focusing on high profile celebrity cases like the OJ Simpson trial, or of people wrongly convicted of serious, violent, sensationalized crimes, this book is about the ordinary, yet systemic and endemic injustices experienced by Latinos and people of Color at the hands of the criminal [in]justice system in the United States. The book offers an in-depth ethnographic account of the case written by Juan’s lawyer, “The Professor,” a sociologist pro bono attorney, that follows the case and carefully chronicles the injustices and systemic racism experienced by his client in criminal court from the complaint, investigation, arrest, preliminary hearing, pre-trial motions, to final disposition. The result is a compelling story told from the perspective of the client and his legal defense team; The Professor, and co-counsel, Raphael Guerra, a crafty seasoned trial lawyer and retired Deputy District Attorney, and a cadre of Latina student interns who provided valuable input and support.
The murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other unjustified high profile police killings have triggered massive protests, signaling the emergence of an international Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) and increased concern not only with the unauthorized use of deadly force by police but the mass incarceration of Black and Latino defendants. Recent protests seeking radical reforms, have pointed to systemic racism at every stage of the criminal justice system, from policing to pre-trial processes, sentencing, treatment within correctional facilities, and even re-entry (Sawyer 2020). Because research has focused largely on the experiences of Black defendants, generally adopting a Black/White binary view of race in the U.S., there is a need for more research and scholarship on racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system experienced by Latinos and other groups, particularly bottom-up. in-depth, personal, ethnographic accounts.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 35 percent of state prisoners are White, 39 percent Black, and 21 percent Hispanic or Latino, and in twelve states more than half of the prison population is African American. Although ethnicity data are less reliable than data on race, the Hispanic population in state prison is as high as 61 percent in New Mexico and 42 percent in California (Nellis 2016). And in an additional seven states, at least one in five inmates is Hispanic. Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated at a rate that is 1.4 greater than the rate for Whites, and surprisingly these discrepancies are especially high in states like Massachusetts (2.3:1); Connecticut (2.9:1); Pennsylvania 3.3:1) and New York (3.3:1) (Nellis 2016).