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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 202026 Find in a Library
Title: Gideon's Reality: After Four Decades, Where Are We?
Journal: Criminal Justice  Volume:18  Issue:2  Dated:Summer 2003  Pages:4-8,10,12
Author(s): Stephen B. Bright
Date Published: 2003
Page Count: 8
Type: Issue Overview
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article examined the failures of local governments to provide legal counsel to those accused of crimes.
Abstract: Americans enjoy the constitutional right to counsel when accused of a criminal act. However, despite the fact that this right is celebrated in theory, it is largely ignored in practice. The author outlines the way in which defendants, especially poor defendants, are denied their right to counsel either by being held and entering a guilty plea in the absence of counsel or by being provided with incompetent counsel when they are unable to provide their own attorney. The historical roots of the denial of offenders’ basic constitutional rights are outlined as the author makes the argument that offenders have long been treated as second class citizens in the United States. Specific court cases are described to show how offenders’ rights have been continually fought for over the course of American history. The article focuses specifically on the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which in 1963 marked the historic Supreme Court ruling that defendants had a right to legal counsel. However, the author points out that the constitutional principles guaranteeing counsel are easier to assert than to implement. Resistance by various States, such as Georgia and Texas, to the principles of the Gideon case is reviewed as the author discusses a lack of funding for indigent defense. When counsel is provided to indigent defendants, their counsel is often incompetent or inappropriate, such as in the case of a foreclosure lawyer being assigned to represent a defendant on death row. The author continues to make his case through an examination of court decisions that have either strengthened the resolve to make adequate counsel available to indigent defendants or have weakened the efforts to provide such counsel. The post-conviction proceedings of Gideon are provided to illustrate how the defendant lacked adequate counsel and how the court ignored his right to legal counsel. In conclusion, the author decries the system in which defendants are denied their right to counsel and calls upon professionals in the criminal justice system to demonstrate a recognition of the deficiencies of the system and to take action to protect the constitutional rights of all defendants.
Main Term(s): Indigent Defense; Right to counsel
Index Term(s): Defense counsel; Defense counsel effectiveness; Judicial decisions; US Supreme Court decisions
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