Honoring #GideonAt55

Today, March 18, 2018, is the 55th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright. The struggle of Clarence Earl Gideon to obtain defense counsel, and his fight to affirm his right to counsel regardless of means, cemented the Sixth Amendment right that if a person cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided. Public defense access has improved since the Gideon decision, but the public defense system struggles from chronic underfunding, inconsistent standards for public defense eligibility and quality depending on the state, and a lack of support for training and resources for public defenders.

To assist local and state governments and other system actors provide the robust support that public defender systems need in order to fulfill their constitutional obligations, the Justice Programs Office (JPO) compiled the resources listed below. We hope these resources will provide useful background information on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, demonstrate the current state of affairs in public defense, and allow system actors to better support Sixth Amendment access and honor #GideonAt55.

  • Bureau of Justice Assistance resource page, which provides information on the Sixth Amendment Training and Technical Assistance Program, along with links to other resources: https://www.bja.gov/sixthamendment/
  • National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s Smart Defense Initiative, a training and technical assistance program that focuses on data-driven strategies for public defense.

The public opinion research and messaging guide can help defenders explain the importance of their work and advocate for funding, the studies and reports provide evidence on weaknesses in public defense systems and recommendations for how to improve them, and training and technical assistance can support strategic planning and help system actors explore evidence-based practices.

There are other resources available to support public defense systems, including federal and state grants, training and technical assistance from other providers, and research that informs decisions on providing quality defense for clients, but we believe this list is a good place to start.