Our Voices

The US Public Defender Crisis

It’s 1961 in Panama City, Florida. Clarence Earl Gideon is charged with breaking and entering, but he can’t afford a lawyer. After requesting a court-appointed attorney, Gideon is denied on the grounds that there’s no threat of a death sentence. Gideon, without the representation of an attorney, was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction unanimously finding that Gideon’s right to counsel wasn’t granted. Gideon v. Wainwright of 1963 didn’t just determine that defendants have a right to court-appointed attorneys, but the decision mandated states provide a defense attorney for any indigent clients facing felony charges.

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