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Federal Criminal Defendant's Handbook: Negotiating the Long, Lonely Road from Arrest, to Prison, to Freedom

by Douglas Hill, J.D., Kensington Publishers, 208 pages

Reviewed by Paul Wright.

A common refrain among jailhouse lawyers that have successfully learned how to navigate the legal system while imprisoned is "I wish I knew at the time of my arrest what I know now." Knowledge of how the criminal justice system works in the real world is invaluable to anyone facing criminal charges.

Douglas Hill practiced law in California for 25 years before going to federal prison for six years after fighting criminal charges against him for five years. Now released from prison, Hill has written the Federal Criminal Defendant's Handbook. While primarily aimed at those who are dealing with the federal government, its general advice will be useful to anyone facing criminal charges in state court as well as federal court.

Hill provides criminal defendants with honest, down to earth information about the criminal justice system that is realistic and tells it like it is. While people that have previously had no dealings with the criminal justice system will probably benefit the most from this book, those that have been through the system before and haven't quite figured it out will also benefit.

Divided into three sections, Hill covers everything from arrest, indictment, to trial, prison and release. He explains the importance of finding the right lawyer and assessing the evidence against you in deciding whether to go to trial or make a plea agreement. For most people, these are the most important decisions they will make in their lives but there is surprisingly little information available on the topic. Criminal defendants generally have to rely on, and trust, the advice their lawyers give them. Anyone who reads this book will be in a much better position to critically assess the advice their lawyer gives them, as well as knowing what questions to ask their attorney.

Hill then tells people going to prison what they can do to influence their prison placement with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), post conviction relief and what arrangements to make to put family, legal, business and other affairs into order before they go to prison. This information is especially useful since Hill gives real world advice to people going to prison. A lack of planning usually results in criminal defendants losing all their worldly possessions when they go to prison.

The Federal Criminal Defendant's Handbook gives an overview of the BOP, what spouses can do to support their imprisoned loved one, an excellent primer on what to expect in prison and how to constructively use your time while locked up.

The book concludes with chapters on halfway houses, parole, probation and supervised release. All told, this is the best book on this issue that I've read to date. The insights that Hill offers are practical and invaluable. Anyone facing the prospect of being a criminal defendant and/or going to prison, especially federal prison, will find this book to be a useful and worthwhile investment. I wish I had had it when I was first arrested in 1987. Cost is $44.95, plus $3 shipping. Order from: Kensington Publishers, 1563 Solano Ave. PMB 533, Berkeley, CA 94707. (510) 524-7729.

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