Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court reached a landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, recognizing the constitutional right to an attorney for criminal defendants, even when they cannot afford one. Today, however, the right to counsel for poor Americans has amounted to little more than an unfunded mandate. Public defendants are so underfunded and overworked that they cannot possibly provide adequate representation to defendants. The average amount of time spent by a public defender at arraignment is often less than six minutes per case. And that is when counsel is present and allowed to give information.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder described America’s indigent defense systems as existing “in a state of crisis” and called for advocates, the private sector, and every level of government to right this injustice. In a forthcoming report, the Brennan Center for Justice will identify a series of low-cost recommendations necessary to secure a more effective and fair system of public defense. The Center will also host a roundtable discussion on April 9th at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to further discuss the challenges of Gideon and the next steps necessary to fulfill this promise.
For more information on Gideon, check out the list below:
- Gideon at 50: Three Reforms to Revive the Right to Counsel (Brennan Center, April 9, 2013)
- A New Approach to Indigent Defense (Right on Crime, The American Spectator, March 29, 2013)
- The Lies We Tell Each Other About the Right To Counsel (Andrew Cohen, Brennan Center, March 18, 2013)
- Gideon’s Muted Trumpet (Paul Butler, New York Times, March 17, 2013)
- Indigent Clients Suffer as Public Defenders Struggle to Keep Up with Caseloads (Karen Houppert, Washington Post, March 15, 2013)
- Right to Lawyer Can Be Empty Promise for Poor (Ethan Bronner, New York Times, March 15, 2013)
- Speech by Eric Holder at Justice Department’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (March 15, 2013)
- How Americans Lost the Right to Counsel, 50 Years After 'Gideon’ (Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, March 13, 2013)
- Counsel for the Poor: The Death Sentence Not for the Worst Crime But for the Worst Lawyer (Stephen Bright, Yale Law Journal, 1994)
- Reforming Gideon at 50 (April 9th) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- For news and upcoming Gideon events, visit the American Bar Association’s Gideon at 50 page.
- For information on Gideon/civil right to counsel events, check out the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel’s page.