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Book Review: A Dictionary of Criminal Law Terms, by Bryan Garner

(Thomson West, 2000). 751 pages, $29.00

by John E. Dannenberg

PLN readers will recognize this compact 751-page pocketbook as a “junior” version of the venerable 1,920-page Black’s Law Dictionary, which is also the work of seasoned legal lexicographer Bryan Garner. The Dictionary of Criminal Law Terms gains its compactness not by skimping, but by focusing on criminal law terms – dealing with criminology, criminal procedures and penology. As such, its 3,000 words and phrases are particularly useful to jailhouse lawyers.

Compared to the standard Black’s dictionary, this edition is, refreshingly, much more brief and concise in its definitions; one doesn’t need yet another dictionary to translate them.
Listings are conveniently alphabetical even for multiple word phrases. For example, “in forma pauperis” is located between “informant” and “information.” Because the definitions are in plain, concise language, they are not intimidating but are rather very easy to use, and, importantly, to learn from. Where a definition has been determined by venerable case law, the legal citation is given. The publisher uses good size print, notwithstanding the book’s compact size, making it readable in dim cell lighting.

The Dictionary of Criminal Law Terms has two bonus sections. Appendix A contains the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution). Appendix B contains 20 pages of fascinating legal maxims, including their Latin language origins – snippets of legal wisdom chronicled throughout the ages of jurisprudence. A few samples are: cum confitente sponte mitius est agendum: one making a voluntary confession is to be dealt with more leniently; cogitationis poenam nemo patitur: no one is punished for his thoughts; delinquens per iram provocatus puniri debet mitius: a wrongdoer provoked by anger ought to be punished less severely. The Dictionary of Criminal Law Terms is thereby both instructive as well as thought-provoking. It is available from PLN for $29.00 plus shipping on orders under $50.00. See pages 53-54 for ordering details.

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