Born at Misilmeri, Chinnici graduated in law at the University of Palermo in 1947 and started working as a magistrate in 1952 in Trapani. In 1966 he moved to the prosecutors office in Palermo. In November 1979, he became head of the Examining Office at the Palermo Court, following the murder of his predecessor, Cesare Terranova, by the Mafia. At the time the prosecution was separated in an examining phase (the so-called instruction phase) and a prosecuting phase.
Chinnici created the Antimafia Pool, a group of investigating magistrates who closely worked together sharing information to diffuse responsibility and to prevent one person from becoming the sole institutional memory and solitary target. The famous Antimafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were part of the Antimafia Pool as well as Giuseppe Di Lello and Leonardo Guarnotta. The Antimafia pool laid the groundwork for the Maxi Trial against the Sicilian Mafia in 1986.
He was instrumental in reviving investigations into the Mafia and understood the need to bridge the gap between the judiciary and the rest of Sicilian society to create a counterculture against the Mafia and break down omertà, the law of silence that kept the Mafia alive. He frequently spoke out against the Mafia in public appearances and schools at a time when judges had avoided the word for many years.
On July 29, 1983 a car bomb explosion in Palermo killed Chinnici, two of his bodyguards, Mario Trapassi and Salvatore Bartolotta, and the concierge of his apartment block, Filippo Li Sacchi, as he left the house to go to work. The bomb was triggered by the notorious Mafia assassin Pino Greco, on the orders of his uncle Michele Greco. Michele Greco was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for ordering Chinnici's assassination. He was succeeded as Chief Prosecutor by Antonino Caponnetto.
- Zingales, Leone (2006). Rocco Chinnici, l'inventore del pool antimafia (in Italian). Edizioni Limina.
- Stille, Excellent Cadavers, p. 81
- Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and the Procura of Palermo Archived 2012-10-21 at the Wayback Machine., Peter Schneider & Jane Schneider, May 2002, essay is based on excerpts from Chapter Six of Jane Schneider and Peter Schneider, Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo, Berkeley: University of California Press
- Italy: Mafia 'Pope' dies in Rome clinic, Adnkronos International, February 13, 2008
- Schneider, Jane T. & Peter T. Schneider (2003). Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo, Berkeley: University of California Press ISBN 0-520-23609-2
- Stille, Alexander (1995). Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, New York: Vintage ISBN 0-09-959491-9
- (in Italian) Fondazione Rocco Chinnici
- (in Italian) La rivolta dei giudici Siciliani: Intervista al Giudice Rocco Chinnici, I Siciliani, March 1983