By Raj Jayadev
This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions this country’s criminal justice system has ever known – Gideon V. Wainwright. The case, along with later decisions, cemented the 6th amendment right to counsel for anyone, regardless if they have the ability to pay.
But in a quick scan of the media today of monthly magazines to news dailies on the topic, readers will find one unified reflection expressed — half a century after Gideon, we are far from realizing effective representation for all. A sweep of the titles reads like a punch in the gut: “Right to Lawyer Eludes the Poor” (New York Times), “Indigent Clients Suffer as Public Defenders Struggle to Keep Up with Caseloads” (Washington Post), “Serious Problems Persist in Indigent Legal Defense” (Associated Press). There are films and books being released to coincide with the anniversary, which give a fuller and more intimate look into the grinding machinery of a broken court system. And while the unanimity on identifying the problem, even echoed from the US Attorney General to the leading legal scholars of our time, is striking, what stands out the most is what is missing from the discussion – solutions.