Film je nastal po odmevnem romanu avtorja mnogih knjižnih uspešnic Johna Grishama.Potem ko dva primitivna belopolta moška posilita desetletno deklico Tonyo, se njen temnopolti oče Carl Lee odloči, da bo vzel pravico v svoje roke. Ker sodišče več kot očitno ne namerava obsoditi posiljevalcev njegove hčerke, ju Carl Lee ustreli. Ker mu zdaj grozi smrtna kazen, Carl na pomoč pokliče mladega in neizkušenega odvetnika Jaka Briganca. Čeprav se Jake ne počuti sposobnega za vodenje tako pomembnega primera, je Carl prepričan, da se bo Jake dobro odrezal.
In Canton, Mississippi, 10-year-old Tonya Hailey is viciously brutalized by two white racist rednecks -- James Louis "Pete" Willard and Billy Ray Cobb. Almost immediately after Tonya is found and rushed to a hospital, Pete and Billy Ray are found at a roadside bar, where they had been bragging about what they did to Tonya. Tonya's understandably distraught and enraged father, Carl Lee Hailey, remembers a case from a year ago, when four white men raped an African-American girl in a nearby town, and got acquitted. Carl is determined to not let that happen in this case. While deputy Dwayne Powell Looney is escorting Pete and Billy Ray up a flight of stairs to a court room, Carl emerges from the building's basement with an assault rifle, and he kills Pete and Billy Ray for what they did to Tonya. Carl is later arrested at his house by African-American sheriff Ozzie Walls, and Carl is scheduled to be placed on trial. Despite the efforts of the NAACP and local African-American leaders to persuade Carl to choose some of their high-powered attorneys, Carl wants to be represented by his friend Jake Tyler Brigance, who has a wife named Carla and a daughter named Hannah. Presiding over the trial is white judge Omar Noose, and the prosecution attorney is Rufus Buckley, who would like nothing more than to win the case and swim in the publicity that a win would generate, because Rufus realizes that a murder conviction could help him gain higher office. Helping Jake on the case are his former law professor Lucien Wilbanks, fellow attorney Harry Rex Vonner, and law student Ellen Roark. Ellen has had experience with death penalty cases, and that's exactly what Rufus may be seeking. To start things off, Noose denies bail and denies Jake's petition for a change of venue. Carl has also been fired from his job. Billy Ray Cobb's brother Freddie Lee Cobb wants revenge on Carl, so Freddy gets the help of the Mississippi branch of the KKK, led by Mississippi grand dragon Stump Sisson. Carl'