The fiftieth anniversary of Gideon v. Wainright has brought much needed attention to the now half-century old case granting indigent defendants charged with a felony the right to an attorney. In a recent NY Times editorial, The Right to Counsel: Badly Battered at 50, Lincoln Caplan explores whether States are meeting this constitutional commitment. Noting that public defenders in Miami County carry caseloads of 500 felony cases a year, one begs to question whether we have forgotten our constitutional commitment.
A recent Sundance Film Selection documentary film, Gideon’s Army by Dawn Porter, portrays the struggle and the fight three public defenders face every day in the South trying to keep the promise of Gideon alive. What this article and film both stress with a graceful sorrow is that it is not just the funding and the staggering caseloads which keep us from this promise, it is a culture which has lost its gumption for a better and more just system. We have forgotten our own promise.