'Gideon' at 50: A Muted Trumpet

Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision, the guarantee of right to counsel remains unrealized.

The National Law Journal

Gideon at 50
Clarence Earl Gideon wrote a handwritten petition to the high court, which led to the landmark ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court's March 18, 1963, ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright requiring state-funded legal representation to criminal defendants who cannot afford it has amounted to a massive unfunded mandate, one that states have struggled with — and sometimes resisted — ever since. Still, there are signs of incremental improvement, with key court decisions in Missouri and new ideas for ways to mend the system with minimal costs.

 


A Promise Unfulfilled
There is near-universal agreement among lawyers who represent the poor that Gideon's promise of effective legal counsel for everyone charged with a crime has gone unfulfilled. "The system is broken. It can't be relied upon to protect innocent people from conviction," said Steven Benjamin, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
 

OPPOSING COUNSEL

ABE KRASH
The retired Arnold & Porter partner recalls working as part of team that helped legendary lawyer Abe Fortas shape the winning strategy.

BRUCE JACOB
He argued for the state of Florida against Gideon in 1963, then went on to devote much of his career to the cause of indigent defense.

 

 





VOICES OF ACADEMIA

Not much to celebrate
By Eve Brensike Primus
Fifty years later, the promise of ‘Gideon’ remains unfulfilled.

A strong need for civil legal assistance
By Martha F. Davis
The federal government has a clear leadership role to play in the intersection of access to justice and civil rights, and in immigration removal proceedings.