Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week: Gideon Edition

Five Awesome Things I Read This Week copy

This week marks the 50th Anniversary of Gideon, and while it is one of the most important cases in our society it is under-represented in American cultural conversations.  So I’m bringing it back.  Just like JT and sexiness.

The Basics:  Gideon v. Wainwright, a case decided by the Supreme Court on March 18, 1963, established the fundamental notion that any person accused of criminal behavior has a right to counsel even if he or she cannot afford counsel.

“The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.”

Pretty convincing, right?

Okay, so now that you are as in love with the principles of fairness and justice as I am, now that you are thinking of naming your first child Gideon after a heroic man who stood for justice for himself and ended up ensuring justice for us all (not to mention that whole other Gideon character in the Bible, am I right?), let’s jump to our Five Things.

  1. The Atlantic published a great introductory piece that provides the history of Gideon, the resulting limitations on the right to counsel, and a charge to the American public:  “Either there is a right to counsel or there isn’t. And if there is such a right, we all have an obligation to ensure it is recognized — not just in the history books, and not just in a television movie, and not just in a dusty law book, but in the everyday lives of our fellow citizens.”
  2. Another great piece from The New York Times details how Gideon has been ignored (or worse) across many states, including one woman who sat in jail for eleven months before counsel was appointed to assist her.
  3. “Funding indigent defense isn’t funding criminals. Funding indigent defense isn’t paying incompetent lawyers to do nothing. It’s funding something far more important. It’s funding the protection of the Constitution,” says a blogger using the name “Gideon,” blogging over at A Public Defender.  He attributes the lack of funding and other failures of our justice system to people just not giving a shit about indigent defense.  And he’s funny.
  4. Lawyers have ethical obligations to be prepared, diligent, zealous, and more, but when many public defenders are over-worked and underpaid, does their lack of time lead to under-preparation and less-than-fair representation?  An examination of how different states and parties are responding to this office is over at the National Law Journal.
  5. Finally, a summary of remarks made by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan at an event honoring the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright at the Department of Justice this week, brought to us from The Blog of Legal Times (The BLT).  She indicates that an indigent (poor) client is not entitled to all the bells and whistles of a “Cadillac lawyer,” but certainly is entitled to “a Ford Taurus defense,” an attorney who can appropriately advise and represent the client’s interests.

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