Professor of Law
Randolph N. Jonakait has devoted his career to the criminal justice system—working in it, monitoring it, writing about it, and now teaching it.
After finishing his law studies, Professor Jonakait joined the Criminal Defense Division of the New York City Legal Aid Society. He spent the next eight years there working on a full range of felony cases.
It was a time, he recalls, when the court system was expanding and he handled an extraordinary number of cases, going to trial almost 30 times during his first 15 months alone. As part of the Test Case Unit, he was involved in cases that ranged from allegations of police brutality to challenges of inadequate interview facilities for defendants.
In many ways, Professor Jonakait views his work as a public defender as a continuation of the work he had done as a Garfield Graduate fellow with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the New York City Human Rights Commission. Both, he says, sought to put a check on potential government abuses. He was involved in a major study by the ACLU and the United Church of Christ of the military chaplaincy that was later described in a book he helped write, titled The Abuses of Military Chaplaincy.
While at Legal Aid, Professor Jonakait served as a consultant to the National Wiretap Commission, a watchdog agency that had him going into courtrooms to monitor the performance of different courts and jurisdictions.
In 1979, Professor Jonakait took leave for a year from Legal Aid to accept a position at Pace Law School. He enjoyed teaching so much that he decided to continue in the academic world, and in 1983, he joined the faculty of New York Law School where he started teaching Criminal Law and Procedure and Evidence.
Several years after he came to the Law School, he started the Criminal Appellate Clinic, to give students the experience of working with a real case record, an area he felt was largely ignored in most legal education. The clinic enables students to file an appeal on behalf of a Legal Aid client, and has proven valuable for students hoping to work as public defenders.
During the past two decades, Professor Jonakait has written extensively about forensic science and its impact in the courtroom, as well as on the intersection of criminal procedure and evidence. His book, New York Evidentiary Foundations (Lexis Law Publishing, 1998), is designed for beginning attorneys to help bridge the gap between law school and practice.
Professor Jonakait’s latest work, The American Jury System, is a history and description of the U.S. jury system and how it fits into the overall judicial system. Designed for the educated lay audience, it was published by Yale University Press in 2003.
After nearly 30 years observing the jury system at work, he feels it basically performs well, though there are changes he would like to see discussed.
“We need to find more accurate ways to generate information for the jury. For example, there are better and more accurate ways to do a line-up and we need to institutionalize these improvements,” he explains. “There’s been a revolution in what’s admissible and the debate has centered on what a jury should hear. I think we need to push the debate back to examine how we produce better evidence.”
Princeton, A.B. 1967 cum laude
University of Chicago, J.D. 1970
New York University, LL.M. 1971, Arthur Garfield Hays Graduate Civil Liberties Fellow, 1970-71.
Publications on jury system, evidence, and criminal procedure. Served as consultant to National Wiretap Commission and in Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society.