Hard Bargains: The Coercive Power of Drug Laws in Federal Court. By Mona Lynch. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2016.

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/lasr.12300
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Book Reviews
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Jennifer Balint, Editor 3
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Hard Bargains: The Coercive Power of Drug Laws in Federal Court.By
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Mona Lynch. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2016.
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Reviewed by Karin D. Martin, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy
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and Governance, University of Washington
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Feeling low on your outrage? Then read Mona Lynch’s book, Hard
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Bargains: The Coercive Power of Drug Laws in Federal Court,which
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takes the reader on a journey through the convoluted and often
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shocking realities of federal drug trafficking policy. The book offers
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an exceptionally compelling account of how drug trafficking cases
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are selected, processed, and adjudicated in three different regions
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of the country (a fourth was excluded for sensible and well-
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explained reasons). The result is an unprecedented account of how
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the federal system is geared to “suppress defiance and punish non-
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compliance” (4). The book makes for an absorbing read as you
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encounter one outrage after another; yet, Lynch maintains a scien-
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tist’s stance throughout—letting the coercive use of prosecutorial
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power speak for itself. She offers no hyperbole and none is needed.
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As Lynch teases apart “how complex and competing bodies of
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law get interpreted and applied in the real world” (152) she
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uncovers a dismaying array of consequences produced by federal
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prosecutors’ tremendous power, including the proactive punitive-
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ness of selecting cases precisely because they will be subject to harsh
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sentences. Many other troubling outcomes arise from the calcula-
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tion that Lynch asserts drives all federal sentencing in drug cases:
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drug weight multiplied by criminal record produces the appropri-
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ate sentence (60). It turns out that both of the equation’s determin-
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ing factors are subject to interpretation ranging from exaggeration
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to virtual falsification. “Relevant conduct” in drug cases, for exam-
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ple, includes conduct gleaned from “uncorroborated reports by
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informers who allege and detail past drug transactions with the
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defendant” (emphasis added, 27). Similarly, drug weight can be
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based on “historical weight” in which “informants provide informa-
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tion that is used to estimate drug weight for alleged past trafficking
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acts—they tell the case law enforcement agents how much was sold,
Law & Society Review, Volume 51, Number 4 (2017)
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C2017 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
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