March 21, 2013
Deborah Leff Speech at ACS Event: Considering Gideon at 50: The History and Future of Indigent Defense.
Caroline FredricksonPresident, American Constitution Society
Deborah LeffActing Senior Counselor, U.S. Department of Justice Access to Justice Initiative
On Thursday, March 21, 2013, at 10:00 a.m., the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy hosted “Considering Gideon at 50: The History and Future of Indigent Defense.”
In the 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” It was this unanimous decision, in an opinion authored by Justice Hugo Black, that gave true meaning to the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. However, 50 years after this landmark decision, this country has fallen short of what is required of it by the Constitution. Three-quarters of the public defender’s offices in the country have caseloads which exceed recommended caseload standards. Some defenders are handling 500 felony cases per year when the American Bar Association advises they handle no more than 150. In some jurisdictions, prosecuting attorney offices’ budgets are three times those of public defender offices’. And in the midst of state budget crises, some offices have been forced to fire defenders. How far have we strayed from the Supreme Court’s intent in Gideon? Have the Supreme Court’s right to counsel cases over the past 50 years been in the spirit of Gideon? What was the historical, constitutional, and legal context in which the Supreme Court reached its unanimous decision in Gideon? How do we respond to the contemporary indigent defense crisis? Panelists discussed these and other questions throughout the symposium.
Symposium featured: Deborah Leff, Acting Senior Counselor, U.S. Department of Justice Access to Justice Initiative