The Elusive Quest for Poor People's Justice
By Karen Houppert
(New Press, The, Hardcover, 9781595588692, 288pp.)
Publication Date: March 2013
Categories: Legal History
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On March 18, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that all defendants charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment of more than a year have the constitutional right to free legal counsel if they cannot afford their own. Today, an estimated 80 percent of defendants are served by indigent defense.
In a book that combines the sweep of history with the intimate, telling details of individual legal cases, veteran reporter Karen Houppert chronicles the stories of poor people across the country who have relied on Gideon’spromise. Houppert’s investigation takes her from Washington State, where overextended public defenders juggle impossible caseloads, and New Orleans, where systemic flaws are so pervasive that the criminal justice apparatus occasionally nears collapse, to Georgia, where an underfunded capital defense program jeopardizes the efficacy of counsel in death penalty cases, and Florida, where revisiting the original Gideon lawsuit challenges basic assumptions about the right to legal counsel for the poor. Chasing Gideon illuminates reform efforts as well as the critical problems that plague indigent defense in the United States, helping us to understand how and why it is failing, and what can be done to better achieve equal justice for all.
A half-century after Anthony Lewis’s award-winning Gideon’s Trumpet chronicled the story of the court case that changed the American justice system, Chasing Gideon picks up where Lewis’s book left off.