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.
- The Right to Counsel National Campaign’s public opinion research report Americans’ Views on Public Defenders and the Right to Counsel and its accompanying message guide.
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Gideon at 50 Project: A Three-Part Examination of Indigent Defense in America, which focus on deficiencies in the system, and possible solutions.
- The Brennan Center for Justice’s Gideon at 50: Three Reforms to Revive the Right to Counsel, which highlights current challenges in the public defense system.
- 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/
- The Constitution Project’s Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel, which also provides explanations of current weaknesses in the public defense system.
- American Bar Association’s Ten Principles (Of a Public Defense Delivery System).
- 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.