Tagged: criminal representation

John Oliver on the Public Defender System

public defenders JOJohn Oliver did it again! With more than 2.8 million views, John Oliver in his weekly “Last Week Tonight” analyzes the public defender system in the United States as only he can do it.  He begins by quoting the 1963 decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Court stated that “… any person … who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” Does this system works as intended?

He shares quite a few shocking facts and statistics:

  • “… anywhere from 60-90 percent of criminal defendants need publicly-funded attorneys, depending on the jurisdiction.” (Brennan Center for Justice, Apr. 9, 2013). 
  • “… 40% of all county-based public defender offices had no investigators on staff.” (Bureau of Justice Statistics).
  • “… about 95 percent of criminal cases never make it to trial.”

He explains that

[t]he Miranda warning includes the right to a public defender. It doesn’t include the fact that public defenders are highly overworked and grossly underpaid.

Related Readings:

  • Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). 
  • William Lawrence, The Public Defender Crisis in America: Gideon, the War on Drugs and the Fight for Equality, 5 U. Miami Race & Soc. Just. L. Rev. 167 (2015).
  • Indigent Defense Systems (Bureau of Justice Statistics) offers statistical data on the right to counsel and methods for providing indigent criminal defense.
  • John Oliver, Public DefendersLast Week Tonight (Sept. 13, 2015).

Commemorating Gideon’s 50th Anniversary

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, in which it recognized that the right to counsel is a fundamental right that is binding on the states.  As the many posts and discussions honoring the day reveal, it’s probably appropriate to label the occasion a bittersweet one:  sweet, because the decision was so obviously right, but bitter because of the lost promise of what might have been.  We are better off with the right to counsel, without doubt; but resources, volume, and politics, among other factors, have created problems with the quality of counsel received by many.